Helprin’s chapter entitled, The Acceleration of Tranquility, in his book, Digital Barbarism, creates two separate worlds – one historical and one futuristic – or, one simple and one abstract. Through his thought exercise, he attempts to bring to our attention the importance of a life aware of “natural limitations, mortal requirements, and human preferences”(9). For example, he notes the machine’s capacity, both physically and computationally, is virtually unlimited whereas our human limitations physically, mentally, and emotionally are enclosed within strict limitations. We can never live without breathing or grow twelve feet tall. We can never live without sleeping or grasp everything. We can never live without hating or loving. These limitations make us human and separate our identities from one another. The early 1900’s scenario Helprin created provided a clear delineation of a world based in simplicity and limitation. The scieintification of life in his future scenario envisions a world filled to the brim with technology that delimits space, place, and relationships. Normalcy is hyper substantiated by the infiltration of science and technology. Technology becomes our translator and transmitter of life experiences effectively destroying our human perceptions replacing them with fragmentations of imagery, text, and sound.
Helprin argues the scientification of life blurs, degrades, and mutes, human experience. Helprin believes technology, “endeavors to do the integrative work that used to be the province of the intellect, and that, if it is not in fact accomplished by the intellect, is of absolutely no value”(14). His observation, though, ignores the capacity building effect technology has on the intellect. No longer are we limited by fundamental computations, geographic space, or communicative action limited to in-person speech acts. Technology is a platform. Not a virtual world separating us from reality. So, as a platform, technology raises us up so that our awareness extends beyond our 1900’s selves. Helprin states he prefers the 1900’s scenario. Reading his biography reveals why. Born in 1947, Helprin is an academic, adventurer, and military man. A good ole’ Harvard and Oxford graduate predisposed to a life of privilege and plenty. His positionality reflects a life filled with “the good things.” On the other hand, a man or woman limited to their suburban neighborhood because of socio-economic status would revel and appreciate the delimited potential technology brings them more the Helprin. Because of their limited positionality in comparison to Helprin, their experiences are inherently different and the scientification of life brings advantages the other would not necessarily see.
The advent of unlimited technological advances automatically raises ethical, moral, and physical concerns, but technology will not destroy the world – people will. Educated and intelligent people, the elite, hold the reins of power. These individuals, predisposed to narcissistic tendencies, should beholden to enlightened ethics and ways of being. Not the ones who “follow a style of dress and comportment that they call ‘edgy,’ and that is nothing if not deliberately provocative, aggressive, and nihilistic-a continuous declaration of irony”(18) whom Helprin analogizes as the Visigoths of the 21st century (ie Hackers). Technology can blur the important lines of reality that make us human, but it also expands those lines. Each one of us should look inward to find our reality compass and acknowledge our positionality and relationship with technology. As in any time, historical or futuristic, the greatest tool and platform is self-knowledge and compassion. Without those, humans will always bash around existence controlled by two poles – positive and negative.