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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Last Wednesday, I started watching the BBC series “Life on Mars”. The series is about a police officer Sam Tyler who has a car accident and ends up in a coma… which ‘takes’ him back to 1973. Admittedly, a friend had suggested watching the series a few weeks ago, but I was slightly put off by the title and yes, didn’t get around to watch it. Which meant that I had to catch up on the story’s background as I went along as I discover, to my dismay that I should have followed on my friend’s suggestion. Fortunately, I did manage to figure out what was happening to Sam Tyler and all that. Indeed, I caught myself thinking about some of the story’s implications…

Right: Image of Mars - the red planet

Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech

Even if the idea of using the coma experience to create new worlds wasn’t a new one to me, it’s interesting that the world Tyler has found himself in is the same Earth with the only difference that it’s a world of 30 years ago! In spite of the fact that Sam is transported back in time, and knows of the future (which adds a comic slant to the series), he retains the police job he had (or will have?) in the 21st century. At the same time, as he is ‘now’ working in his old neighbourhood, we anticipate meeting his ‘younger’ self too.

On the other hand, if I think about it, the story is set when I was minus 8 years old? – Oh my … I didn’t even exist then! So that’s one thing that we often forget … that there was a time before us when we weren’t even here … and our world has changed a lot over the centuries. Then, if it wasn’t for the many things our ancestors thought of or worked to achieve, our life would have been very different. It’s just today that we can say that a mobile phone is a common gadget, or that we can watch live images of protests in Tibet or follow the news as they happen in real time! Without really waiting that much…

This global technological revolution started steadily accelerating around the end of World War II. Yet, we sometimes fail to appreciate (or forget) how much of history still affects us … Indeed, Our democracy, our technology and everything we can conceive today has its roots in the past! In fact, we cannot speak of the ‘present world’ without referring to history - at least as far as humanity is concerned...

Thus, we have to pose ourselves other questions. What about the authenticity of our individuality? How much of myself can I claim to be my own? My ‘self-definition’ as a person, including my membership in the disabled community … are these actually ‘my choice'? What about the beliefs I have or the things I like doing … are they ‘my own’? Would I find it so enjoyable to type away at my laptop if it hadn’t been for a series of events that made writing and computers possible?

Yes, this includes factors ranging from having the correct conditions for life to develop on Earth, and having access to food and resources – and having a stable infrastructure to use the net (I skipped a lot of things here) … But, then again, how many people living in the majority world (or what was formerly known as the ‘third world’) can claim to be living the same living conditions I have right now? And here, there is the issue concerning justice and quality of life. Who are histories winners, and losers, and what does this say about our position in history as individuals and as a society? Can we remain unconcerned with the lack of social justice and the improper distribution of wealth?

As our mobile phones, PDAs or gadgets might appear ‘alien’ to a person living in the 1970s, so would our values or traditions appear to someone living in parts of the majority world. On the other hand, there are many things we share with each other which is often forgotten. People then, there, here and now are still facing the same issues and challenges humanity has had to confront for millennia. We still need food, shelter and to have friends and partners. We are born and succumb to death as our ancestors did. We still face disease, and other natural disasters. What might have vastly changed – mainly in the Western world – is the way we relate to these changes. I am not about to embark on any moral debate here, but it appears that we have tried to ‘control’ rather than adapt to our environment. The fact that we are toying with the idea of creating human-animal hybrids – which I hope to tackle another day – should say it all…

Interestingly, the series’ title derives from a song by David Bowie with the same name. My friend, who originally suggested that I tuned in to the series, told m that “Life on Mars?” was one of Bowie’s hits (apart from the fact that she is a Bowie fan too) – so there! Thanks to You Tube, I could watch the video of the original song and I also tracked down the lyrics for Bowie’s hit. I find that the song speaks about things happening today as well. In fact, in this song, Bowie seems to be foreseeing a more globalise world and lamenting that much of the culture of his day was being Americanized:

Now that I write 35 years later, I am not sure whether I can agree that Americanization has happened (if mine is a correct interpretation) – although I recognise that the US has had and still has considerable influence on global affairs. Those are the facts, whether it is good or bad is another matter. However, the question is whether we can really think of ourselves without referring, or acknowledging, the efforts of past generations and the effects of our own past on who we are today… And, yes, I ask whether if things had been slightly different aeons ago, whether there would be a human society to write about.

In this sense, what I feel might be a real danger in our technological advances is that we lose touch with our past, preferring to build new things without looking back to learn from our mistakes. In my view, it’s not only the environmental crisis that we might be heading for that should worry us but also a certain apathy and indifference to attempts at changing the course of our biology. Are we really ready to outsmart nature? And perhaps, after we have managed to destroy ourselves, nature would have it that new life would start developing on Mars … and laugh us off …