I’m not sure what compelled me to search for a particular short story, it was probably some technology article. When I was a kid I read a short story about a power outage at a school.
This story was set in the “future” and the power outage compelled the teachers to take their students on a field trip to a museum. As I recall, in the museum were pencils and papers, something the children were not familiar with. I found that interesting (I think it was 10 or 11 at the time) that pencisl would someday be an obsolete technology. I couldn’t find the short story, but I found another one that evoked a similar feeling.
Published in 1958 Isaac Asimov’s short story, “The Feeling of Power”, is set in a future where the Earth is at constant war with another planet. Computers are built on both sides to control missles and to build defense systems for missles. It’s a seemingly endless war where both sides advanced their technology progressively to counter one another.
In this future the building and maintaining of complex computers have come to a level of diminishing returns, where the cost to produce them outweigh their benefit. The war, like all wars, is costly. The short story starts with the rediscovery of hand written mathematics, doing math with pen and paper and in one’s own head.
How often have you broke out a piece of paper and pen or pencil to calculate a long division problem? There’s really no need in this day in age, your smart phone could calculate it in a matter of seconds. I have an old calculator watch that could make the calculation quickly as well.
It appears in the future Asimov created in his short story the need for calculating anything manually, or using ones brain to make calculations, isn’t necessary and is a “lost art”. Sound familiar?
This isn’t to bash technology or it’s conveniences, but it really makes you think about how reliant we are on technology. If the power went out for a long period of time, would we know how to survive? (I could go off on a tangent here, but I recommend this book – “The Encyclopedia of Country Living: The Original Manual for lviing off the Land & Doing it Yourself“).
I’m seeing a lot of technology that’s appealing to our sense of instant gratification. Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortana, etc… are all subtly integrating and impacting our culture. I don’t want to date myself, but when I was growing up, we had to go to a library or if we were one of the lucky ones, typically look up pieces of information in a world book encyclopedia.
I’m afraid we’re going to be living in a future where the machines do the thinking for us (sound’s dramatic, but practically speaking, it’s already happening – home automation, machine learning, chatbots, etc…)
One of the most haunting passages of Asimov’s short story is this one below, where a general explains how he could use the rediscovery of written mathematics (graphitics) for a militaristic advantage.
On the other hand, a missile with a man or two within, controlling flight by graphitics, would be lighter, more mobile, more intelligent. It would give us a lead that might well mean the margin of victory. Besides which, gentlemen, the exigencies of war compel us to remember one thing. A man is much more dispensable than a computer. Manned missiles could be launched in numbers and under circumstances that no good general would care to undertake as far as computer-directed missiles are concerned . . .
As technology progresses and as machines become more integrated within our life. There could be a time in our very near future where “A man is much more dispensable than a computer”. Where a human life is valued less than a machine…
Read the full short story here: https://urbigenous.net/library/power.html