"This labor is a funny thing, To man the good gods gave it; And man, as Time sped on the wing, Invented things to save it. And when he'd saved it, bit by bit, And to the pit consigned it, All men deplored the loss of it, And broke their necks to find it."
"A little thing of my own," said my small bald monologist, after seeking permission to take his seat at my private dining table.
"It seems to sum up the position rather tritely,: he continued, beaming on me paternally over his glistening spectacles. Then he ordered fish and fell silent until that course was consumed.
Then, laying his knife and fork precisely in the centre of his plate, he regarded me for a moment appraisingly, then forged ahead.
"I have always regarded with envious admiration," he said, " that historic person who had the temerity enough to be rude to the Equator. But lately I find myself, during meditative moments, going even further. I discover myself becoming critical, and even scornful of the whole earth, and, so far as its human content is concerned, rather cynically amused over man's pursuit of - well, of whatever man is pursuing.
"In less sophisticated days I used to think that this ultimate quarry was happiness; but lately, observing modern trends and the utterly humorless, not to say hopeless outlook of the most intense disciples of modernism, I begin to doubt it.
"In this feverish rushing hither and thither in speedier and speedier engines, in all this earnest saving of manual effort, however trivial, what vague urge works behind it all? Where lies the ultimate? Is an ultimate envisioned, and, if it is, what is it?
"I have thought the thing out ad absurdum, as it were, endeavoring to peer into the future, and this is where my musings lead me.
"In about the year 2000 man had reduced all human effort to a minimum. He had improved and perfected the photo-electric cell until it not only worked for him, but in many instances thought for him. A spoken desire immediately brought about a concrete result.
"He had only to wish to be in a certain place and, automatically, he was there. All manual labor was abolished; eating occupied an infinitesimal amount of time and no enjoyment; communication was merely a matter of thought.
"Slowly man's hands, finding no further employ, became atrophied, his legs mere rudimentary appendages, and so on, until man himself became a mere immobile, unemotional, pulsating brain something like the creature with whom Mr Wells long ago inhabited the moon.
"Machines did everything. Man had harnessed the tides, the heat of the sun, every force of the universe; and these machines function so accurately, so regularly, so inevitably that any action on man's own part was utterly futile and meaningless. Robots even played games for him.
"So, in the fullness of time, man found that he himself was absolutely unnecessary in the scheme of things. And he disappeared from the face of the earth.
"And I had a vision of our earth thereafter - a desolate and deserted planet upon which vast insentient machines went on functioning, endlessly producing and still producing. The sea became cluttered with useless machinery. Mountains of intricate gadgets were piled up in endless confusion until the weight of them, disturbing the delicate balance of the cosmic plan, sent everything crashing to oblivion.
"I shall not live," said my monologist, "to see that day."
"But in the meantime, Charles," he added, turning to the waiter, "I should like my roast beef just a little rarer."
And, wishing me a courteous "good evening," he trotted down the room with an air of complete content.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|