Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Talking Turkey (1 of 4)

by Rob - February 7th, 2009.
Filed under: Interviews, Turkey.

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses — so don’t expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

The first one, below, was for the monthly Turkish magazine Digital Age, described as “a digital business and culture magazine.” Here’s what I had to say:

1. Is technology really a time-saver for us or just making our lives more complicated and busy?

Absolutely it’s a time saver. Remember when you had to retype a whole page of text because you’d made an error? That’s a trivial example, but it’s also true. The reason we are busier now is that we can do more things: computers have given each of us the ability to become publishers, filmmakers, and so on, and we choose to do those things.

A book that’s very popular in North America right now is Outliers, by my fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell. It points out that the thing people innately value most is the opportunity to do meaningful work: important work, work that makes a difference, work that they can take pride in. Far fewer of us work in boring, assembly-line, repetitive manual-labor jobs now than did 50 years ago. We have technology to thank for that. Yes, we’re busier — but we’re happier, too.

2. Technology brings less human relationships, I mean humankind is just becoming more selfish (individual) by technology. What will human relationships be in the near future, if technology keeps on improving?

I totally disagree with your first sentence. In fact, technology brings us closer together. In North America, where I’m from, the phone company used to have a slogan for long-distance calling: “Reach out and touch someone.” That is, technology made it possible to be in touch with people who didn’t happen to live near you.

The most popular technologies are all about communication — about interacting with other human beings: cell phones, email, text messages, social networking, online communities, Second Life, and so on.

As for what changes we’ll see in the future, it’ll be more human contact, not less: all that’s holding us back now is bandwidth limitations. Soon, we’ll be able to see each other in high resolution anywhere in the world; eventually, we’ll see each other in three dimensions worldwide.

Technology brings us together no matter where we live: you don’t have to be isolated if you live alone, you don’t have to feel cut off from the rest of the world. It’s called the World Wide Web for a reason: it covers the entire planet, and it ties us all together in wonderful ways.

3. Does technology has a philosophy? How do you define the philosophy of technology?

The scientific name for Humanity is Homo sapiens, which means “Man of wisdom.” Historically, we’ve done a poor job of demonstrating that we deserve the name. I’d rather we were called Homo faber, which means “Man who makes things.” Technology allows us to permanently change things, and to do things that will have effects after we ourselves are gone. No other animal can do that, and we can only do it because of our tools. So, the philosophy of technology is this: technology empowers, technology amplifies our abilities, technology gives us the ability to improve the human condition, and technology allows us to create things that will outlast our own lives.

4. What’s your all time favorite future prediction (either yours or someone else’s)?

Well, in my field of science-fiction writing, there was a popular movement, starting in the early 1980s, called “cyberpunk.” It suggested that the future would be controlled by the tiny underground of streetwise youths who really understood computers.

I love that prediction because it was hopelessly wrong: it was lousy extrapolation. It assumed that since only an elite worked with computers in 1980, that it would always be that way. The death of cyberpunk surely came when Time magazine named “You” — you, me, average people — its person of the year in 2006 in honor of the way all of us, from toddlers to the most elderly, had embraced the use of computing technology to give themselves and each other joy.

5. What will humankind be in the next 50 years?

We will live longer, possibly much longer — with projected lifespans of centuries instead of decades.

We will be more healthy: we are starting to recognize just how much human disease is infectious and caused by bacteria and viruses (the breakthrough that ulcers are caused by bacteria rather than stress was just the beginning; new evidence suggests that Alzheimer’s may be caused by viruses — and so may many cancers); we will cure those diseases.

Some may choose to make modifications to themselves (so they can breathe underwater, for instance).

And, most of all, we will be at peace — because the alternatives are either peace or annihilation, and I believe humanity is wise enough to choose the former. We’re not Homo sapiens yet — but we better become him in the next fifty years!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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