Search form

Does technology fail us?

Based on a recent interview Bill Desowitz did with Wally Pfister (Transcendence), Marc ponders the question whether technology actually fails us.

I just read an interview Bill Desowitz did with DP-turned-director Wally Pfister ("Transcendence") for Indiewire. 

Wally said something that made me think. 

I quote:

"The technology discussion is very relevant," Pfister suggests. "I have documents I can't read now. I recently went into my pre-production folder for 'Memento,' which is 1999, and I found my old shot list and equipment list. And I double-clicked it and it was all gibberish. So trying to find software that is current that can translate these documents that were created on AppleWorks [is a problem]. It's the same with film. And this is where I think technology fails us. I can still put my 1968 copy of 'Sgt. Pepper's' on my turntable and listen to it anytime I want. However, I can't open up that file."

Pfister is an excellent cinematographer and a very competent director,  but his logic here simply escapes me. 

Is using newer digital technology to try and read older technology a problem? Yes, of course. But trying to put your analog 8-track tape from 1978 into your "modern" Sony walkman in 1982 would not work either. Pfister's example works for him, because he uses old technology (record player) to play old technology (the record). If you open the AppleWorks file today on a Mac from 2007 (that's when the software was discontinued), the file would of course still work as well. 

But I'd like to keep following that logic to its conclusion, which is in essence "analog technology is good, because it still works and will keep working". At first I thought that's a statement I could agree with in some cases. But then I tried to find cases to apply this to, and noticed that it's actually wrong in so many ways. 

Technology is and always has been undergoing an evolutionary process similar to our own. And not unlike the evolution of the DNA that now make up the building blocks of who we are as humans,  the "DNA"  of our Technology has mutated,  split, occasionally veered off into dead ends, but eventually lead to astonishing results, and it keeps doing that. That goes for both analog and digital tech. 

There are many reasons to argue against certain technologies,  but backwards incompatibility is probably the least valid argument of them all.  Wally's iPhone (1) software will not be compatible with his iPhone 12 in a few years.  Maybe using an analog rotary phone instead should be the answer? For some reason,  I doubt it. 

A horse saddle made in the 1800s will still fit on today's horse. A car seat from a Model T will not fit into a 2015 Ford Mustang. I can't feed it hay either. Is that a good reason to argue against motorcycles or cars?  Is a hammer really better than an automated nail gun, because you can use pretty much any nail with a hammer, but only special ones with a nailgun? Let me know what you think when you've built a house that way.

I for one am happy that I am able to fly around the world on a jet-engine powered aircraft, and not have to spend months on a sailing ship.  I am also well aware that the jet plane is by far not perfect technology,  and exacerbates the greenhouse effect. But I do not believe that the answer to that is to abandon travel and stay at home, but rather to use and embrace that technology, so we can learn to advance it, make it better, safer, cleaner, cheaper, faster, and get to a state where that plane uses clean energy to propel it forward. That is the essence of science and progress, and I believe that is also the essence of the human spirit. 

That was the spirit of Thomas Edison when he invented the phonograph, or of the brilliant color scientists at Kodak,  when they strove to make film better, turn black and white into color and invent T-grain emulsion to turn high grain and low sensitivity around, to make film the medium that Wally is actually referring to. 

I don't think that technology fails us. But I do think every piece of technology can be improved, absolutely. So for myself, I choose to honor and celebrate Edison's spirit by embracing innovation and progress, and dedicate my time and resources to implement, test and improve as many inventions as possible, and move them - and hopefully us all - forward in our evolutionary efforts. 

By the way,  I typed this on my Android phone. Chew on that, rotary phone. 

More From Tracking Marc:
You're currently viewing the most recent post.Previous Post
Protesting for Visual Effects