At the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction classic, the audience is introduced to a group of apes at the exact moment when they transcend their ape-ness, and give birth to humanity.
One morning, one of these creatures awakens from its dusty slumber to find a strange monolith obstructing its view of the African plains. The monolith is slim, rectangular and black; its edges are straight and its angles perfect.
In other words, it is not an object formed in the happenstance of nature; it is a piece of technology.
The early-rising ape soon awakens its kin with cries of confusion and anger directed at the odd statue. Before long, the whole clan is up-and-at-‘em: stomping their feet, waving their hands, and screaming, screaming, screaming.
But something about the black monolith inspires one of them.
Later in the day, this particular ape sits on its haunches and looks quizzically at the remaining bones of an animal carcass; it picks up one of the larger bones. Soon it is using the large bone to bash the smaller bones into smithereens.
Weaponry is born.
Some members of the group are unconvinced by this technological innovation and soon there is a standoff between the apes armed with bones and those without. Not surprisingly, one of the unarmed warriors is beaten to a pulp.
Voila: The dawn of Man (sic).
Interpretations of this strange film sequence vary, but I think Kubrick has two main points:
First, technological innovation is an intrinsic element of humanity. And second, technological innovation is not intrinsically good; in fact, its often destructive.
This movie has been on my mind lately.
You see, as long as I have owned a cell phone I have always opted for the $90 Samsung — the kind that flips open. And to be honest, carrying around a crappy, old phone had become a stubborn point of pride for me.
But things changed when a nice lady from Bell phoned and informed me I had qualified for a phone-upgrade.
“Would you like an iPhone 4, for free?” she asked.
Every curmudgeonly Luddite has his price.
“I surrender. Send me the free iPhone.”
And just today, my quantum leap forward in technology arrived in the mail: I stomped my feet, waved my hands, and screamed, screamed, screamed. I tore open the box and inspected my new possession: my iPhone is slim, rectangular, and black. Its edges are straight and its angles perfect.
Like Kubrick’s apes, as of yet I have no idea of the power that has been bestowed upon me; just remind me to use it for good instead of evil.