Technology is running in reverse.
First we gave up CDs, which back in the 1980s offered crystal-clear, concert-quality sound, for compressed MP3s that mute music with a strangled buzz. Then we stopped using film, which had resolution so fine we could turn snapshots into giant wall posters, for cell phone cameras that produce pixelated images enshrouded in bloody fog. Then we began swapping big-screen computers with comfortable keypads for little plastic, breakable mobile devices where one has to type with two thumbs.
And now we have YouTube — a brilliant video leap forward in which we can watch 4 1/2 by 3 1/2-inch grainy films produced by drunken college students.
So. Technology is getting worse, and now the horror sets in. NASA is ditching the Space Shuttle in 2010 for — we’re so upset we can hardly type it — a rocket with a capsule on top. This has been coming for years; talk of retirement surfaced soon after the Challenger accident in 2003. But damn if the new rocket doesn’t look like a 1960s moon launch.
The Shuttle was what technology is supposed to be about. Slick. Sexy. Reusable ships that soared to heaven and back, igniting imagination with double-delta wings and heat shields like something out of Star Wars, a design that a 5th-grader might dream up. The thrust structure was made from titanium, the engine cranked up to 104%, and when spent, the Shuttle could piggyback home on a Boeing 747, sort of a, look, I’m too sated from space travel to bother finale. The Shuttle made outer space seem within reach, a there-and-back again adventure, with parts that were recycled for a little green gift to Mother Earth.
But we blew it. Viewers stopped tuning in for live Shuttle launches, ratings went down, so NASA has stuck us with the Orion, above. Ick.
Maybe technology is running backward because we’ve all grown a bit selfish. Rather than share movie experiences on gigantic screens, we want secret video in little boxes from YouTube. Instead of socializing in concert halls, we demand earbuds that pipe in private iTunes.
If this trend continues, humans will probably stop talking to each other with rich facial expressions and vocal nuances altogether and instead take up lower-resolution alternatives, perhaps typing little messages on tiny keyboards and posting them in small windows for others to come find.
Oh, never mind.