6. Manned Spaceflight
One hates to see this dazzling technology go, but when one resolutely sets the romance aside, there’s not a lot left. Thanks to decades of biological research, it’s now quite clear that flying around the solar system is bad for one’s health. Without the healthy stresses of gravity on one’s skeleton, human bones decay just as they do during prolonged bed rest, while muscles atrophy. Cosmic rays blast through spacecraft walls and human bodies, while solar flares will fry astronauts as diligently as any nuclear bomb. I won’t mention the fact that spacecraft are inherently rickety and dangerous, because that’s a major part of their attraction.
There is little point in stepping onto the moon, leaving flags and footprints, and then retreating once again. The staggering price of shipping a kilogram into orbit has not come down in decades. In the meantime, unmanned spacecraft grow smaller and more capable every year. Until we bioengineer ourselves to enjoy cosmic rays, or until we’ve got rockets that can lift a Winnebago made of solid lead, this technology belongs on the museum shelf.
It’s rather out of style to suggest that people who transgress might be rehabilitated if treated decently. But even if criminals are to be relentlessly punished, removed from the sight of decent people, and kept in a giant, two-million-person ghetto, there are better, cheaper, and more efficient ways than the ones we have.
Newfangled electronic-parole monitors and ubiquitous computing offer plenty of opportunities. These certainly needn’t be seen as sissified kinds of constraints; they could be just as cruel and unusual as anyone might like.
Lose your American internal visa (formerly known as a “driver’s license”) and you soon find that merchants won’t take your credit, that aircraft won’t transport you, that for all your sunny smiles and good behavior, you are under heavy constraints. American airports have become incarceration centers in all but name, plus you can get a drink there and listen to Muzak. So why do we go through these same ritual gestures with the iron bars, uniforms, and transport trucks? Technically, it’s redundant.
8. Cosmetic Implants
There is something scarily aberrant about puffing up living human flesh by implanting large amounts of an alien substance. Not that people will sacrifice vanity-of course that is out of the question-but any truly advanced medical technology would simply grow the flesh into the desired shape, using the human metabolism, as opposed to injections of window putty. Silicone’s mimicry of flesh-and the same goes for gel, saline, and collagen-is too crude for genuinely cosmetic purposes.
9. Lie Detectors
They just plain don’t work. They might have some vague use in increasing the psychological stress of a subject under interrogation, but galvanic skin response and heart rate have little to do with the process of lying. The use of lie detectors is basically a voodoo ritual that allows large institutions to lie to themselves about the trustworthiness of their employees.
Even if lie detectors did work-say, with newfangled nuclear magnetic-resonance brain scans-they would become an Orwellian intrusion. Furthermore, there would likely be a social revolution as major actors in society, from top to bottom, had to admit to fabricating their lives out of spin and wishful thinking. The official public version of our means, motives, and opportunities is severely divorced from the private world of our interior thoughts. If we were forced to confront and reveal our brain functions through technological means, most of us would soon discover that we led half-baked lives of quiet intellectual desperation, in which very little thought of any kind ever took place.
The DVD was the most eagerly adopted electronic consumer gizmo in history, but I’d feel bad if I failed to complain about the evil of these things. First and worst, DVDs are unbearably frail. Any benefit one gets from “clearer pictures”-on what HDTV superscreen, exactly?-is quickly removed by the catastrophic effects of a single thumbprint or scratch. Plus, just like CDs, DVDs as physical objects will prove to warp and delaminate.
Most loathsome of all is the fiendish spam hard-burned into DVDs, which forces one to suffer through the commercials gratefully evaded by videotape fast-forwards. The Content Scrambling System copy protection scheme doesn’t work, and the payoff for pirating DVDs is massive, because unlike tapes, digital data don’t degrade with reproduction. So DVDs have the downside of piracy and organized crime, without the upside of free, simple distribution. Someday they will stand starkly revealed for what they really are: collateral damage to consumers in the entertainment industry’s miserable, endless war of attrition with digital media.