After a self-imposed, 3 year cell-batical, I admit to being pretty stunned by the technological wallop packed into “smart” phones these days. It's a little like peering into a future that's already arrived. Coincidentally, I also just finished the final season of BSG, a series that - at its core - is a cautionary reflection on (and warning about) the perils of unchecked technological advances.
BSG's dystopian vision of humanity probably seems more important than it really is, but the series is distinctly (and by definition) a present-day construct, a pop-culture dissection of the trends and possible futures of a global society with right now as its starting point. Regardless of BSG's place in the science fiction canon, it's hard not to be impressed with the scope and thought that went into the series. To be frank, about half of it is well-packaged rubbish but the other half is though-provoking Sci-Fi at its finest. The series worked best when it was stripped down to pure survival mode. What needed to happen, who stepped up and who didn't when the chips were down made for great story telling and BSG excelled when the writers concentrated on the challenges of this struggle. When it wandered off into quasi-religious mode, the series noticeably deflated and became a bit tedious at times.
While it isn't integral to the BSG story arc, the brief glimpses offered into Caprica before the fall are underdeveloped and if BSG had a plot hole, this is it. For all the “beware-the-machine” rhetoric of the series, the rift at the core of the conflict goes strangely unexplored. Having seen the opening volley of the new series “Caprica”, which is set in the period when machines develop a consciousness (of sorts), I gather that the series' creators felt the same way. We'll have to see where they go with it. That being said, the vague cautionary tale about technology that BSG circles around might be deliberate and gives the series the benefit of allowing the viewer to imprint whatever they want on the warning. Depending on your perspective, the show could be about the automobile, big oil, the nuclear industry, the military, Apple or any of a dozen other things. Regardless of the rotating metaphor, what was evident during these pre-war-life-on-Caprica flashbacks, was the airy indifference displayed by its citizens to the pitfalls associated with their technologically advanced society.
Which brings me back to my new “smart” phone. The increasingly ubiquitous wireless world of cell phones, Twittering, text messaging, iPods, and other personal communication tools has grown exponentially in recent years and it's changing our society in ways we haven't begun to understand. Our individual and collective behavior is shifting to align with these new forms of interaction in both good and bad ways. The sheer accessibility to information, knowledge (and maybe more importantly, each other) also manifests itself in increasingly conflicting ways. We've all tried to have a verbal discussion with someone so completely immersed in their cell/text world as to become nearly impossible to engage with in the real one. Their attentions are difficult to maintain because they can't stop texting and twittering long enough to focus on an analog discussion. The huge irony of course is this - for all the new communication lines opened to them by their wireless devices, the cell-outs have lost their ability to communicate using the one they're born with. Amongst nearly all the converts, there also seems to be little realization that their most intimate communication is now modulated and controlled by third parties, a particularly troublesome relinquishment of their right to (and need for) privacy.
What I took to be the essence of the BSG story line was the danger associated with unchecked faith in technology. Granted they took it to a metaphoric extreme – the machines rise up and kill us – but the story is not new. It's been done countless times before - from H.G Welles to Planet of the Apes to The Terminator series, but at their core, these tales are all about the same thing.
In a way, BSG took the easy way out. By making the machines the aggressor, the show's creators removed human culpability from the equation, at least in any direct way. At worst, the humans were presented as a combination of arrogant and blissfully ignorant. The Cylon Frankenstein they created simply rose up and mutinied against their masters. It might have been interesting if they had explored the idea that benevolent passivity in a society addicted to a mode of communication that sometimes lessens rather than expands real discourse was ultimately to blame for its downfall.
Out of interest, I think that's where we are right now.