Most people must have heard about the so-called “Year 2000 problem,” or Y2K, as the turn-of-the-millennium computer glitch is known in techno-speak. Newspaper columns are filled with warnings of pandemonium in banking systems, airport control towers and other vital public facilities, just because computers, programmed to treat years in two digits, cannot recognize the year 2000 and will decide to shut down. Never before in the history of mankind have so many people been so fixated on one single technical foulup. Welcome to the age of techno-mania.
This is no bugaboo. Rather, this collective anxiety reflects one reality: how much the modern man is at the mercy of technology. Yet, at the same time, with advances in computer technology, in microbiology, in life sciences, we feel we are finally getting the upper hand over nature. Some scientists even try to play God and attempt to create life on their own.
Hedge-fund managers become modern-day Midases with the touch of a few computer keys in the electronically meshed world of finance. Nations believe they can break the will of another nation with the use of “smart” bombs and missiles guided by big eyes in the sky. Even sexual prowess can be instantaneously enhanced with a wonder drug.
Technology, thus, becomes a be-all, beat-all marvel that has intoxicated the entire world. Technology rules. Nowhere is the phenomenon more evident than in the growing might of the United States. There, the modern Midas holds court, the computer-software king commands more wealth than the sultan of oil-rich Brunei, and techno-savvy upstarts become millionaires many times over even before they turn 30.
Appropriately enough, the U.S., a country that has made the greatest technological advances this century, has emerged as the only superpower as the Soviet Union fell out of the great technology race and imploded. Since then, the U.S. has almost single-handedly defined the agenda on the international scene. American policymakers believe that weapons of mass destruction are too dangerous except in the hands of great powers. So out the U.S. went to punish any defying “rogue” state. The U.S. holds democracy is the way to run the affairs of a modern state and by this single yardstick, the world is divided into winners and sinners, friends and foes, to be awarded or punished under U.S.-inspired rules.
Alone on the pinnacle of power, the U.S. has become the standard bearer and “the American way of life” the dream of millions across the world. Fast-food chains created in the American image dot the global landscape, from Beijing to Moscow, from Rio to Mumbai. American music fills discos around the world. Hollywood reigns supreme, its stars the ultimate idols. And CNN carries images of American might to every corner of the world.
As Americans celebrate Pax Americana at the dawn of a new millennium, there is nonetheless a fin-de-siecle feeling in this technology-worshipping world. Consumerism runs amok, and so is the urge for instant gratification. Taboos, long held sacred in fear of a higher being, are discarded with almost total impunity.
Despite all the techno-wonders that have emanated from the U.S., we have a feeling that village Earth is adrift. As Earthlings have less fear of God, there are signs that nature’s empire is striking back. El Nino wrought havoc across the world, causing droughts here and floods there. AIDS, on the other hand, continues its deadly march from Asia to Africa and the Americas.
All the while, we see an explosion in the world’s population. While it took all recorded history to produce the first 1 billion people by 1804, the world’s population is projected to top 6 billion this year, the last billion being added in just 12 years. The world’s environment becomes the first victim as renewable resources are depleted ever faster to feed and clothe the world’s extra millions. As a result, climate changes and the ozone hole gets bigger by the year. And we have been forewarned that nature will strike again with all its fury, choosing its target as capriciously as human beings have been capricious in their tinkering with natural elements. One mistake in the great bio-labs of the world can lead to consequences that forever mar the face of human civilization.
None of these things can be resolved with the strength or wisdom of a single country. Pax Americana, if is to be sustained, must be nourished by a value system that reflects and respects the priorities and realities of the world at large. We need a world order that accommodates the myriad wishes and needs around the world. Technology can only be the mid-wife; we must not be blinded by its false splendor.
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