“Books, young man, books!”

It’s probably not the sort of thing a lifelong science fiction nerd like Yours Truly ought to be admitting publicly. There are fellow nerds out there who will almost certainly demand that I turn in my old Buck Rogers secret decoder ring and surrender myself for interrogation by Darth Vader’s sinister Death Star probe droid once the news gets out.

I’ll just have to take my chances, I suppose. After all, I’m the guy who years ago got chased out of a Star Trek mini-convention, all because I pointed out that the REAL reason for the different look between the Klingons of the original series and those of the movies and sequel TV shows was the improvements in make-up techniques between 1966 and 1979. 

It occurs to me that the scorn I may face as a result of the following comments can’t possibly be worse than the trauma of being chased out of the convention room by a herd of Trekkies calling me “heretic” while throwing their rubber Spock ears at me.

Can it...?

Let’s find out. (Cue the recording of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra...”)

Having given the matter a great deal of thought over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that - may the ghost of Isaac Asimov have mercy on me - I am NOT a fan of modern technology.

(Take a moment if you must, fellow science fiction fans, to catch your breath and try to recover from the feeling of total shock and disgust you may be feeling as a result of this admission. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Ready? All right, let’s continue...)

In one of my newspaper columns recently I invoked the name of Samuel T. Cogley, the attorney with a preference for books over computers in a first season episode of the original Star Trek. I stated at the time that, as a youngster who was already an unapolegtic bookworm of longstanding by the time I first saw the episode in question, I felt an immediate bond with ol’ Samuel when he gave Captain Kirk a delicious lecture on the importance of the printed page as opposed to the cold, impersonal computer: “Books, young man, books!”

Even at that young age, though, I recognized that there was a certain sense of irony to be found in my embrace of the Cogley Doctrine. After all, the bulk of my reading material at the time consisted of science fiction tales - everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells to Flash Gordon and Adam Strange -  much of which seemed to focus on convincing us that the world would be such a better place because of the wonderful new technolgies that the future held in store for us.

And I bought into it - well, to a certain extent, anyway. After all, I was one of those 6-year-olds who sat glued to the television screen as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon while we were drinking our big glasses of Tang and eating our Pillsbury Space Food Sticks. 

Or saw Adam West feed data cards, phone book pages and alphabet soup noodles into his trusty Batcomputer and receive all manner of information in return, and think, “Gee, wouldn’t it be neat if I had something like that!”

Or watched breathlessly as Kirk and Spock beamed down planetside via the starship Enterprise transporter and George Jetson streaked to work in his flying car, and say to ourselves, “Someday, boy, someday...”

But even in the midst of all that youthful “what if” exurberance, there was also just the slightest trace of misgivings about the impact technology might actually have upon the world I was growing up in. That was the downside to having a reading level above that of my classmates, I suppose; I understood that we were deeply enmeshed in a Cold War centered around weapons of mass destruction. I also understood that it was one of those weapons of mass destruction that Charlton Heston detonated during his last stand against that futuristic ape army. 

(You’d think that nightmare scenario might have tempered some of Heston’s political leanings later in life, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another time....)

So I went through my childhood and adolescence ping-ponging back-and-forth between looking forward to tomorrow’s technology, and at the same time fearing it.

As time passed and I grew into adulthood, my ambivalence regarding new technologies did not subside. When pocket calculators first became all the rage, my sixth grade math teacher stopped just short of threatening bodily harm toward anyone who brought their Texas Instruments devices to class. The advent of automobile computerization meant that Dad could no longer tinker around with his car engines as he had in the past. 

And if you think the Forbin Project or HAL 2000 running amok was awful, you should have seen what happened when my wife gave my parents her old Atari game console and Mom got addicted to Pac-Man... 

During my college years, personal computers were still just coming to be seen as vital tools and people were just starting to talk about something called the internet. That talk prompted me at one point to pen what I thought at the time was a science fiction story for my creative writing class, about how society allowed itself to become addicted to something I called “Voyeur Vision.” 

If I’d had even an inkling of the eventual rise of YouTube, I sure as heck would have filed a copyright request...

The man many still consider to be the greatest scientist of all time - Albert Einstein - often shared his concerns about the impact technology would have upon the human race. “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” he said on one occasion. 

On another he added, “Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”

And then there was what may have been his most famous prophecy: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

From where I’m sitting, it would appear that Einstein’s prognostications have become today’s awful reality. While we bicker back and forth about unemployment, retailers are replacing workers with self-checkout lanes. Tom Selleck’s dinner table on Blue Bloods appears to be the only place where people actually converse anymore. And people like me who still prefer buying real books to read or albums and CDs to listen to or DVDs and blu-ray discs to watch are constantly made sport of by those who insist that “physical storage media” are going the way of the dodo.

“Thumb drives and streaming services are more efficient,” one friend told me a while back. “Give yourself to the Dark Side.”

No. I won’t do it. I refuse. 

At the end of the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, the supercomputer of the title proclaims itself as “the Voice of World Control” and informs its inventor that “freedom is an illusion.”

A lot of people in 1970 probably thought such a prediction to be silly. 

These days I look around and think, “Maybe not so much...”

(Column copyright © 2021 by John A. Small)