As old as the poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is, its lesson is very apropos for our technological age.
Upon leaving his workshop, an old sorcerer appoints his apprentice to clean it. Tired of fetching pails of waters, the apprentice, who is not fully schooled in magic, magically employs a broom to fetch water.
The floor is suddenly flooded with water that the apprentice cannot stop. To counter this, he splits the broom, but in doing so, a number of brooms appear fetching water at twice the speed. The old sorcerer finally returns and breaks the spell. He then states that powerful spirits should be controlled only by the master himself.
One look at our age of technology reveals we have entered it hook, line and sinker. Once hooked on technological gadgets, we tend to desire even faster and more improved ones. Often there is a feverish pitch to be the first to purchase them.
Undoubtedly, technological advances have saved lives and reduced laborious tasks. And no doubt they represent progress and the best of humanity’s creativity. But the fate of the sorcerer’s apprentice raises a serious question: how to maintain control.
In the book, “Habits of the Heart,” Robert Bellah and colleagues studied the foundations of America built on democracy and freedom. In a section on freedom we read, “Freedom turns out to mean being left alone by others, not having other people’s values, ideas or styles of life forced upon one, being free of arbitrary authority in work, family and political life. What it is that one might do with that freedom is much more difficult for Americans to define.”
One way to define it is to see the magnificent breakthroughs in science as releasing powerful spirits that need control of a master.
I ride public transportation. More often than not, almost everyone on a bus will have their heads bowed and eyes fixed on their phones. I have also experienced cyclists riding single-handed while texting.
Some would contend technological advances like these help us better put our lives in order. This may be true, but the bigger question is who is controlling whom?
Do we “have to be” on our phones continuously or do we employ moderation? Do we have governing rules or feel we have freedom to do whatever we desire? Are we not awash in the new age of technology in need of innovative mastery?