Today we are able to sustain billions of people due to genetically modified food products, fight wars without having to use actual soldiers, build twirling skyscrapers thousands of feet into the air, and drill miles down into the ocean floor while floating precariously above its surface. Every day technology takes us further and further into uncharted depths, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Little, it seems, is beyond our reach. With all that we’ve accomplished, however, there’s a feeling we’ve built a civilization—a way of life—that is unsustainable. That we’ve reached a point where we are no longer able to fully understand or control the consequences of our technology; and for each day the oil spews relentlessly in the deep, the effects of this reality become more profound, more troubling.
When the stock market plunged in response to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, this reality began to seep into the public mind with an economic force. Billions of dollars worth of investments—synthetically created derivates—suddenly had no value. They were products of pure human ingenuity, modern quantitative modeling, and greed. Like a thinly taut skin providing but an air of protection, the bubble suddenly burst under its own weight. Technological, or mathematical, machinations would not keep us afloat for very long.
Today, capital-flows are managed via digital currency adjustments to the tune of trillions each day. An entire system wholly built upon and increasingly run by things which move too fast, think far too quick, for us to fully control when things go awry. Similar to what occurred in 1987, those who watched the “flash crash” unfold before their eyes were almost certain the whole system was coming to a screaming halt. Technology giveth, technology taketh away.
Many have stated that we are in the beginning stages of a vast revolution. That the most far-reaching aspect of current technology, the computer (or, more collectively, the Internet) is so profound in its influence upon the world we can’t even begin to understand all of its future implications. Imagine living around the time the printing press was first invented? Information suddenly became available on a massive scale. How many people would’ve imagined its massive impact upon the Catholic Church and the Reformation? One machine catalyzed an entire religious movement.
As we move forward, it is becoming quite clear that regulators are losing control. Spread across both visible and invisible electronic networks, i.e. dark pools, high-frequency programs exchange and create the wealth of very fortunate individuals with astounding profit. Unnamed trading institutions housing floors of computers churn out millions of dollars from less than penny spreads as entire pension funds and bond portfolios go broke. Volatility and uncertainty only mean more profit—for the rest of us, it’s licking up the crumbs.
When one of the most powerful and technologically advanced rigs in the world opened the floodgates to what has now become over a hundred million gallons of oil leaking into the Gulf, I could not help but contemplate how Pandora must’ve felt when opening the box. Unfortunately, as the story goes, after she was finally able to get the lid back on the only thing that remained trapped inside was Hope.
Copyright © 2010 Cris Sheridan
Cris Sheridan | California, USA | Email