2015: A Space Odyssey
In 1968 director Stanley Kubrick shocked the world upon releasing his newest film, the bizarre yet brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this film Kubrick paints us a picture of our future, and, in doing so, creates one of the most memorable movie villains ever put to screen: a red light. With its eerily calm voice and heightened intelligence, the HAL 9000 eventually becomes more human than the humans themselves.
In his essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” author Nicholas Carr uses Kubrick’s film as a metaphor for where we are heading technologically, or perhaps where we already are. He too worries that the advancements of technology are leading us to sacrifice our own intelligence in order to “compensate” with these new technologies. Drawing on his personal experience with the issue, such as noticing his lack of deep concentration while reading, Carr discusses the fear he shares with Kubrick. While “Google” has changed the world for the better in many ways, I too share Carr and Kubrick’s fear.
This fear comes across clearly in Carr’s essay. He discusses how the Internet has become more than just an asset; we have become dependent on it. We are always looking for a shortcut, and the Internet is almost always there to lead us to its entrance. However, I will also be the first to admit how much good technology has done us as a people, as a society; this also tends to be the most popular rebuttal to Carr’s argument. No one can deny the amazing progress we have seen because of technology and its advancements, but I believe there exists a point at which it can become too much. What and where is that point? This point comes when we start becoming the machine, and the machine becomes us. Stanley Kubrick absolutely nails this message by using his film as a device by which to convey it. The astronauts in the film, Dave and Frank, barely have human emotions; they feel like robots, and I am sure that is how Kubrick wanted them to be portrayed. This allows the emotional stage to be taken by HAL, the representation of technology, and when technology takes over our emotions — Kubrick argues — we lose our emotions, our humanity; I believe we have already begun to see the first inklings of this.
Now, as for the “where” part of the proposed question: what and where is the point when technology becomes too much? I believe that point is very, very soon, if not already here. No longer can you ride an elevator or wait for class to start without seeing the glow of a pixelated screen thrown onto someone’s face. We look into our screens hoping to make connections with people all the while we are surrounded by real people. How much of a connection are we really making if it through a phone rather than face-to-face, where we can truly be with someone. I am not saying I am any better about this than anyone else; I am just as guilty, but does that make it right? No, but it is the world in which we live.
I remember — like I am sure most kids my age do — how big of a deal it was to get a cell phone. Most people forget that while our generation has been completely immersed in the sea of this technological era, we are also the last generation that will remember a time without smartphones and iPads. Getting that first cell phone was huge back in grade school; it did help me connect with my friends, absolutely, but that is because it was the first time I had ever used texting, or even the first time being able to call one of my friends without having to call his or her home phone and asking if he or she is available. It was huge.
However, now it has become something different; it has evolved. It no longer acts as an extension of our personal contact with each other, simply giving us a way to speak with each other outside of school. It is now the way; it is no longer second place. Texting and social media have evolved to the point where it is our primary way of communication, not just an extension of physical interaction.
The Internet has affected us in the same capacity, only in different ways. For example, when we were required to write a research paper in school and use a book as a source it was always a struggle for us. Having become so dependent on the Internet and Google, flipping through hundreds of pages of a book about the French Revolution was different for us to say the least. The Internet has a reached a point where it has become insanely efficient, which — having seen the power of such efficiency — makes it difficult to switch back over to the “old-fashioned” way of doing research.
Carr believes this too, saying how we are so used to reading short, concise phrases rather than long stretches of text, and it is affecting our ability to comprehend thick articles or novels. So he asks us the question: is Google making us stupid? The answer sure seems to yes, however, it is partially on us as well. Sure this technology is absolutely changing everything about the way we communicate, work, and live. It is also helping make this world better in a myriad of ways; there is no denying that. It is our responsibility to use it responsibly in a way, not to let it consume us.
In 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is Dave, the astronaut, the human, who stops HAL. Kubrick is showing us we have to been the ones to stop this scary future towards which we are catapulting ourselves. We do not have to battle these advancements with a great rebellion or anything like that, but rather with our actions; use these great tools as, well, tools. Do not let them become our lives, but rather enhance our lives. Do not let them become our relationships, but rather nurture them. It is the simple things: talking to that person in the elevator or going up and knocking on your friend’s door instead of texting them. Next time we are tempted to reach for our smartphone, maybe we should leave it in our pockets. There is a whole world out there that a phone screen could never capture.