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Through infrared binoculars, Ishmael could see the movements of several thousand Lebanese Hezbollah troops crossing the Golan Heights. This only confirmed the satellite photos he observed on the high resolution monitor strapped to his wrist. Around him, his men jittered in place as they waited for their commander's decision. "So it has come to this," Ishmael whispered. His orders were to strike first. He relayed this to his men, who watched his troubled face over their personal monitors. "Launch, and may God be with us."
Within minutes, several softball-sized bombs were launched. Through his binoculars, Ishmael gasped as he saw a bright flash and a deep, grumbling roar. The same men he had been watching advance a moment before now lit up, and for a split second, he could see through them like looking through an x-ray. Their flesh evaporated with the force of the neutron bombs, so quickly that they became standing skeletons before crumbling to the ground in heaps. A pervasive silence stole over the land.
* * *
Twelve year old Scott Atwood stood fascinated as a parade of gold prospectors and their pack mules trudged through ankle deep mud in the streets of Nevada City, California. The small town was bustling with activity and noise. Suddenly, he heard gun fire from behind him. Two men were arguing and one shot the other. Scott felt his breath come more rapidly; this was getting a little too dangerous! He pointed his finger to a hulking black steam locomotive, leaving the gold rush of 1849, and instantly traveling back in timeto late eighteenth century Europe. Here he learned just how the steam engine and early passenger trains had come about, a passenger for a few moments on the way to Scotland.
Scott was amazed at all that had happened in Europe and America. He came to appreciate more fully the technical innovations of the past, the courage of early American settlers, and the adventures of the miners in gold-crazy California. Sighing happily, he removed the virtual reality body suit and went out to meet his friends for a game of baseball.
* * *
What a delight it is to sit down in front of a computer screen and chat with people all over the world. What fun it is to become engrossed in a three dimensional computer game for hours and hours. Howwonderful it is to be hooked up to a satellite television system that pipes in hundreds of games of your favorite sport. But technology is more than just entertainment.
In the past, advances in technology have served as the impetus for far-reaching change; we are propelled forward, and our lives are changed forever. Technology is the difference between where we are now and the path not taken. Not only is technology an important example of how aspects of the Quickening overlap and affect each other, much like a patchwork quilt, but technology is the core of the Quickening.
The Power of War
When did all this high-powered knowledge really start to exert itself on the world? In fact, it was the forty years encompassing World Wars I and II that marked a quantum leap in scientific and technological developments; more advances were made in this brief period of history than in all the years of history to that point.
Considering the drastic events of the time, perhaps it is not a surprise that the three most notable technologiesand arguably the most influential upon the time in which we are livingwere those of the world's first rockets, computers, and atomic bombs. Without the world wars, technologies we take for granted could have taken much longer to materialize. Because of these wars, technologies came together simultaneously and complimented other concurrent technologies. In other words, things came together in a way similar to three people starting at different places in a city and arriving at a destination at the same time.
A nuclear bomb is the most ominous technology in existence today. Ironic, isn't it? We created a threat which originally was intended to protect us, but because others have acquired the technology, this threat hangs over the heads of every person in the world. Nuclear weaponry really had its start with the discovery of x-rays in 1895. Quickly after that, radioactivity was found in uranium, and nuclear physics theory was well underway. All this science established the ground work for the atomic bomb.
Between the two world wars, scientists discovered excitedly that they could split atoms (which is nuclear fission). It dawned on them that such energy could be harnessed in two ways: to generate something positive like electricity and to generate something destructive like an atomic bomb.
Under the orders of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the best nuclear physicists of the 1940s built the first atomic bomb; it took about three years and an exhaustive effort to produce two bombs, and of course, you all know the purpose. World War II came to an abrupt end with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the precursors to today's nuclear weapons.
One of the ways in which America chose to use its nuclear energy was in submarines, driven by nuclear turbine power. By 1957, these subs carried more than just navy men; they were equipped with nuclear tipped missiles called ICBMs, or intercontinental ballistic missiles. Guided by computers, the ICBM brought rocket and nuclear technology together, creating another reason for countries all over the world to glance worriedly at their coasts that before had seemed impenetrable.
Rocketing Into Space
Rockets were not only used for propelling bombs. Pioneering space is another example of the Quickening: from the moment it was determined that rockets should exist to the time that man walked on the moon, a mere thirty-seven years elapsed. In the meantime, of course, we have put space stations into orbit which have enhanced our telecommunications abilities, as well as our capacity for weather forecasts, mineralogical and geological surveys of the earth. Thus, the science of rocketry is not an entirely negative one; we have progressed further in our goal to communicate with the world quickly and conveniently.
The Arms Wrestle: America vs. Russia
From the ashes of the world wars, two distinct superpowers emerged: America and the Soviet Union. Each of us applied our economic, geopolitical and technological dominance to create a checkmate known as the Cold War. Each country was particularly compelled to match each other in nuclear weaponry, developed quite naturally from the labors of the atomic bomb scientists.
This arms race is a strange, ironic reflection of some of humanity's most awe-inspiring achievements in technology, and yet is the very thing that could spell doom for humanity. Yes, the former Soviets promised to dismantle their nuclear weapons, but what they really did was dismantle them and replace old technology with new. The onboard guidance systems of these missiles are more precise, and the missiles are faster with a longer range; this does not bode well for anyone in the world today. Further, we no longer have just one nuclear enemy; dangerous countries with hot-headed, religiously fervent leaders such as Iran and Iraq have gleaned nuclear technology from the lowest bidder. Instead of less nuclear threat, there is more.
The human mind is virtually fail-safed. We can only worry about so much at once. Perhaps that is why we are able to go to sleep each night without giving the possibility of nuclear exchange much thought. In the 1980s, I remember a movie called "The Day After," a gripping, horrific take on what the world would be like in the aftermath of nuclear war. The fear level seemed intense then, but as humans, it is in our nature to push things down from our level of daily awareness. Now, more than ever, we need to be aware of the inherent dangers of a world that still presents a nuclear threat, as far away as it may seem.
We live in an information age. Everywhere you go, thebrightly flickering lights of televisions are seen, whether it's an airport, a sports bar, or someone plugged into a generator in the middle of the woods. Radio is another medium through which information is exchanged, and the equipment is following the trends of today and becoming more powerful in a smaller package. Information technology exists all around us: from the bar code reader at the grocery store to a greeting card maker at Hallmark to a washer and dryer to a VCR that does everything but wash the clothes. Undoubtedly, though, the central technological advance is the computer; in fact, acomputer or computer chip is behind every one of the technologies I just mentioned.
Did you know that a man named Charles Babbage actually attempted to introduce the computer to an unwilling world about 160 years ago? It was not until 1934 and beyond that computer technology began to quicken and accelerate. First the Germans, then the British and finally the Americans developed a simple binary code computerand as you can imagine, it took up a whole room with all its metal and cables! The late 1940s saw a move into vacuum tubes, replaced in 1953 by transistors, and the integrated circuit took its place in the 1960s. So, in less than thirty years, the basic approach to the computer was established.
A Computer in Every Home
The computer's role in the Quickening entered another significant period of change in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Macintosh computer and IBM's PC have since been rivaled by many competitors clones, much less costly with virtually the same features. And the wonder of it is, the technology is advancing so quickly that the next generation of computers becomes half as big and twice as fast about every eighteen months. The prices also tend to drop every six months so that it is now possible for more people to either own or lease a computer.
Forecasters of trends in computer technology foresee the day, perhaps in the early twenty-first century, when computers will be so small and powerful, they will be integrated into our lives much like hearing aids or eye wear are today. It is also more than likely that the new versions will be combinations of telephones, computers and television, or video.
Nowhere is the computer's role in the Quickening more obvious than on the Internet. As computers become an increasingly integral part of our lives, we realize that the computer is not just a tool to improve the way we do business, learn, or amuse ourselves, but is a real way to connect with the rest of the world. How is this achieved? As with the Internet, for example, a network is used; you basically have a "hub" and people dialing in on their computer modems become "spokes" into that hub. Thus you are sitting in a virtual "city" with thousands of other people and you wander around going from building to building or room to room, each of which presents new people or new information.
The Internet, funded and created in the late 1970s by the American government, was originally intended to link colleges and universities as a means to facilitate the exchange of ideas and research between academics and scientists. Electronic or "E" mail graduated to real time chat, enabling users to not only access remote data, but also to communicate with others all over the world.
No one imagined the Internet would become what it is today. It has since evolved to span the world as the World Wide Web, and tens of millions of users access it daily. The most popular networks are commercial, such as America Online and Prodigy; they are well organized and make access to the information highway easier.
A Shared Interest Internet
The Internet is a major factor in the Quickening. What other "invention," we'll call it, will consistently enable people to avoid physical contact with the outside world, yet simultaneously interact with more people than you could meet or pass in a month walking down the street? Want a magazine or newspaper? Simply find the appropriate address and browse for hours, read articles, view color photos. Christmas rush got you worn out? Sit down in the comfort of your home and take care of everyone on your list in no time at all, without fighting those crowds or waiting in line.
The Internet will allow people to do library research, check government databases, read reviews, and more. Or you can chat with people who share the same interests as yours. Are you a horse person? A computer game fanatic? Like to cook or sew? There are places for you and everyone online. Academic and scientific researchers can meet and exchange ideas and plans online. If a scientist at Tulane University has a new method of studying cancer, the global scientific and medical research community will know about it immediately, making it more quickly beneficial.
Low Cost & Access For All
If you are wondering, well, that's fine if you speak English, but what about the people who only speak their native language? NEC, the Japanese firm, is one of several companies to anticipate that very question, and have introduced an instant online translator. So if you run into a Japanese person online, your English is automatically translated into Japanese and vice versa. Similarly, there is a voice technology on the market that enables non-typing users to simply dictate messages to their computer, or even script technology that allows a written message to be converted to digital text. Advances such as these will encourage many more people from all walks of life to go online.
The number of online users is increasing exponentially. By 1999, more than 300 million users are expected to access the Internet daily. By 2001, the forecast is for in excess of one billion users. Dropping costs for computers and telephone charges have a lot to do with this unbelievable growth. In fact, having a computer will soon be as commonplace as having a VCR or toaster, and the cost of using it will be just pennies.
The significance of the Internet and computers, as the Quickening continues, is the many ways in which they will affect all aspects of our lives. Imagine not sweating and swearing your way through morning traffic. Imagine the farthest you have to go is from your bed to your computer monitor in your home office. Imagine banking, investing, and shopping now online, soon within virtual reality. Imagine your child in a virtual classroom, interacting in a way he or she might never have had the opportunity to in a traditional classroom, able to literally "experience" history through the Internet. Can't get away for that weekend fishing trip? Try a new three dimensional fishing download or virtual reality fishing, getting back in time for a productive day of work, in front of your computer of course.
A fascinating example of how computers, science and technology are interconnected is nanotechnology, what can very basically be defined as "bottom-up" manufacturing. Nanotechnology is one of the most cutting edge technologies of today, with the potential to conceivably dwarf all factors of our lives. This involves molecular construction and the precise placement of each atom.
The fact that any manufactured product could be dramatically improved has everyone getting in on the research game with a bang; for instance, the Japanese have committed more than $200 million to a ten year development program for specific applications of nanotechnology. Some have speculated that nanotechnology could create a world in which there was no starvation, that a "food machine" in every house would take in any kind of organic material and push out steak or rice on command. Sound incredible? How about a world in which people need never die as every damaged cell is repaired instantly by a team of "nano craft" inside your veins and arteries?
It should be no surprise that the interest level is so high. Twentieth century science and engineering is focused on an ever-increasing understanding of the universe on a smaller and smaller scalefrom electronics and computers to biotechnology and drug design; all the while we are creeping ever closer to unlocking magic at the atomic level.
How does this tie into computers? A great deal of nanoengineering has already been done on the computer; Eric Drexler, the world's first Ph.D. in nanotechnology, and others have come up with extensive designs for what are essentially molecular "replicators." Obviously, we must ask ourselves, "Do we have the wisdom to handle this?" It raises a lot of ethical concerns about creating and controlling artificial life. Clearly, crossing the potential threshold of nanotechnology would have far reaching socioeconomic implications for generations to come. Nanotechnology is one exciting and also scary example of our progression through the Quickening.
ComputersA Way of Life
You can see that everything in our lives will be affected in some way by the advances of computers and the networks upon which we are setting the new structure of society. But this is only the beginning. Our attitudes toward computers will change as we learn to accept these devices literally as extensions of ourselves, and this will prepare us for the astounding changes, positive and negative, in the near future.
Computers play a primary role in another important facet of The Quickening: telecommunications. Telecommunications will take us to an unprecedented level of sophistication and integration of technology in our lives. What is telecommunications? Essentially, it encompasses several fields of technology including telephones, television, computers, consumer electronics and satellites. Around the turn of the twentieth century, telecommunications began with the telephone combined with early electronics. This yielded wireless telegraphy, or the radio.
Telecommunications evolved very quickly in much the same way as computers and atomic weapons. The technology for radar and television emerged bythe late 1930s and after 1945, the Japanese miniaturization of electronics gave birth to consumer electronics. Rocket technology combined with the "brains" of a computer had satellites orbiting the earth in the 1950s. Historically, we have been driven to find ways to communicate faster and easier with each other.
Wireless Wonders, Fiber Optic Fantasies
One of the biggest limitations of our constant companion, the telephone, is not being able to see the person we are talking to. The not-too-distant future will bring what may be called "teleputers," "picocomputers," and PAS (personal assistant system) devices, all equipped with video capability; you can see by the very names that the emphasis will be on smallness. These handy, inexpensive gizmos will be highly powerful computer/wireless video phones with which the user can send and receive data, voice, image, or video in any language, to anyone, anywhere. Already many businesses have invested in the available video phone technology and PC-based conferencing systems. The use of satellites and the Internet for this very thing will become commonplace.
An advantage of technological advances is that the more there are, the less costly they become for us as consumers. In our changing world, fiber optic cables will replace more expensive copper wiring, not only reducing the cost of laying the cables, but in fact handling a hundred times the number of calls. In addition, the significant increase in transmission clarity provided by fiber optics has resulted in a higher volume of usage. In turn, long distance calls are cheaper, and they are poised foran even sharper downward spiral. Fiber optics also make it possible for clear video images to be transmitted.
Thus far, companies have been specialists in their given technology: AT&T in telephones and satellites, Sony with television and other electronic consumer products, Apple with computers, and so on. But now we are beginning to see a crossover. Even these mega-companies recognize that they cannot create and market products in a vacuum; they must learn to cooperate and compete at the same time in order to stay at the forefront of changing technology and its exploding market. Either that or smaller, versatile entrepreneurial companies will eagerly spring up to profit from this burgeoning market.
All the big players such as Motorola, AT&T, Sony and Apple, wisely conglomerating in many cases, realize that these products must address individual consumers rather than being directed solely toward business applications. The path of the future for these companies is directly related to the needs of the individual, as diverse and varied as we all are. Systems like these personal phone/computer devices will create a more independent, autonomous individual by eliminating much of the "spinning your wheels" syndrome. High tech companies are anticipating this need and are becoming better focused on the way life is changing in the Quickening.
For example, more and more people will do their shopping online. This has only been possible with a combination of telephone and computer technology, creating cyber malls; later you will see this evolve into virtual reality experiences complete with head or fullbody gear. You can access and wander through aisles filled with greeting cards, skis, books, airline destinations, and much more. As more and more people accept the ease and convenience of using time- and effort-saving personal devices, the demand for such products will increase.
I have mentioned virtual reality many times because that is the direction we are headed in. Virtual reality, sometimes called "cyber space," will make the phrase "reach out and touch someone" not just a cliche, but a daily occurrence. Virtual reality is the closest anyone can get to having a physical, three-dimensional experience without actually doing it. Sounds confusing and complicated, but it isn't.
Virtual reality, as we have come to understand it, is basically a machine simulating the experience that we as humans would have walking down a street, looking through a rack full of dresses, playing a video game; this technology lifts you from your place in real time and enables you to engage in multiple experiences without leaving your chair. How is this possible? It's all done in a three-dimensional computer graphics environment to which the user is connected with special headgear, eyepieces and sensory gloves.
On perhaps a more practical level, with virtual reality, engineers and architects are able to "construct" buildings and "walk" through them; in this way, they are able to inspect for structural weaknesses, or get an idea of what a certain architectural feature would look like before investing the time and money of their client. A more controversial use involves sensory suits, which some say could create "cyber sex" and other full body experiences.
For something less frivolous, surgeons could use virtual reality to see a three-dimensional image of organs and tissue to assist in more precise surgical procedures. Obviously, as with any powerful technology, virtual reality has the potential of being used for the good of humanity or to its detriment.
Go Clone Yourself!
The recent developments in genetic engineering are yet another example of the amazing and frightening technological advances of our time. For years, it was known that we could theoretically take the basic genetic components of life, DNA, and replicate that, recreating another organism, maybe even a person. In other words, scientists could take tissue cells from a few scrapings of my skin, derive the DNA from those scrapings and theoretically produce another Art Bell duplicate, or "clone." Only recently, has this reached beyond theory.
The Roslin Institute and PPL Therapeutics in Britain boast of having been the first group of scientists to have successfully cloned a sheep. In this case, the nucleus (the center of a cell) was extracted from adult cells, cultured in vitro and injected into the egg of a surrogate mother sheep. The mother sheep eventually birthed a healthy lamb genetically identical to the sheep from which the cells were derived. At this point, scientists can now apply this technology to clone people.
Not everyone in the world is pleased with the idea of cloning. Many people reject the idea of cloning as man's attempt to play God. They charge that, despiteany potential positive results, it is unnatural to manipulate and control genetic material to create the desires of individual man. Richard Nicolson of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics commented that cloning could be the undoing of the human species, and to pursue it further could be like "sowing the seeds of our destruction." Of course, it is entirely likely that this technology could fall into the wrong hands. Thus, cloning is yet another serious issue our troubled world cannot ignore as just another curious piece of news.
How Does All This Affect Me?
These are just a few examples of the Quickening technology. It may be difficult for you to imagine that any of these changes mean anything to you, but I assure you, they do exist and will continue to play a dominant role in our lifetime.
With all of the progress in telecommunications, chances are people will become more independent because much of what they do now out in the "real" world will be accomplished online. Errands that may mean packing you and your children into the car to get done will take a few keystrokes and a lot less stress! You won't spend the time and energy that you used to performing such mundane tasks as shopping, banking, paying bills, or even commuting to work.
Yes, I can see a smile on your face as you realize that you will spend more and more time in your cherished private spaceyour home. The fact is, many more of us will be doing our work at home. Does this mean we will be interacting less with people? No. Probably the opposite. People are still gregarious by nature and will want to identify themselveswith other people. We will go online to find others with similar interests in chat rooms, and seek to group with them, "hang out," if you will. In some cases, we will actually meet with them in person, but more likely, we will communicate with them via video conferences. Why? Because the friends and acquaintances we make will be all over the globe. Telecommunications and technology have the odd effect of making us closer even when we are far apart.
Of course, all this individualism can also produce detrimental effects. I think it very likely that an irony will exist: although humans are social by nature, we also demand our own space; therefore, as people isolate themselves more, hiding behind the convenience and privacy of high tech gadgets, we may become more selfish. A sort of divisiveness may occur. People may be considerate only to those with whom they have chosen to maintain contact and shun everyone else.
A recent article in the New York Times indicated that students at Dartmouth University are constantly increasing online time. Even roommates will sit on their respective computers to communicate and play networked games! You can see that there is already evidence of a tendency for people to gather less frequently in groups in person and more of a tendency to meet online.
Speaking of games, controversy is raging right now over the recent announcement of the top ten computer games of the last year. The most popular and best-selling games are all graphically violent and many people are concerned that this will foster violence in the people who play them, especially children. Can we expect to raise compassionate, decentchildren when they are addicted to games in which they mutilate and kill on screen enemies? Or are the effects that vicious?
Telecommunicationsphones, computers, and all manner of electronicscan foster individual political autonomy which will also result in a diminishing sense of national identity. Why should you feel any allegiance to a country when you have your online friends, co-workers or business peers all over the world? In other words, it is possible that we will see a trend toward a sort of tribalism.
Technology and telecommunications also relate to politics in that terrorist operations have become more sophisticated. Take Iran, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It is nothing for them to engineer a terrorist attack, transferring funds to the appropriate groups electronically and secretly. What about Iran's ongoing purchases of nuclear technology from scientists in Russia? And what Iran's leaders, and many other countries as well, have done is develop nuclear technology into a smaller and more convenient form that transports effortlessly over borders. How can we possibly guard against technology that is so advanced?
Indeed you can see that the boundaries of the aspects of the Quickening are blurred; here you have seen that technology affects the way we behave in society, it affects our global safety, it affects our political ties, and much more. We can look forward to astounding numbers of technological advances in the very near future. For the "Millennium Generation" and beyond, the sky will be the limit. At any rate, you should take a good look at the world around you because it won't be the same when you wake up tomorrow.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HEAVEN
Postwar Fiction by Vietnamese and American Writers
By Wayne Karlin, Le Minh and Truong Vu
Copyright © 1995 Wayne Karlin, Le Minh Khue and Truong Vu.All rights reserved.