Technologies that Limit Access

I remember reading an article not too long ago that celebrated one young man’s new vision for firearms with finger-printing technology–an innovation that at first glance seemed too good to be true. And I have to admit, I thought the idea was great. Second amendment debates typically boil down to how we ensure that the “wrong people” don’t get ahold of firearms. So a technology that limits access to a weapon seems pretty sensible–that is until you read Butler’s Parable of the Talents.

While reading the portion where Marcus, now Marcos, recounts the horrific year of servitude that he endures before Lauren “discovers” and buys him, the collar technology he describes really caught my attention. Marcos tells his sister that the collar controller has ” got a fingerprint lock. And if the fingers trying to use it are wrong or are dead, it chokes you and stays on choke until someone with the right living fingers turns it off. Or until you die” (130). Naturally, this horrific image made me begin to contemplate conflicts of access. What happens when humans control access and limit avenues of power?

I think that the argument that arises through the reading of Butler’s fiction is that control and especially technology that aims to channel power for some and limit power for others is a double-edged sword. Just from recounting the “safety precautions” of The Parables– armored trucks, automatic guns, walls, night vision technology– they seem to do more harm than good. And upon reflection, the only reason that Lauren and the people of Earthseed are still alive is because they had access to other’s weapons. The new technologies accessed through a fingerprint may control access, but what they fail to do is to control people or circumstance.

If Butler has taught me anything, it is that there is no “them” and “us.” There are no clear categories of “good” and “bad” people. People have the inherent need to survive and they do what they must to persist. There is no clear-cut enemy in the battle to survive. So when humans start to limit and restrict access to technologies, there is no guarantee that those technologies will be used responsibly. Humanity is full of gray areas, anomalies and exceptions that can’t possibly be regulated or restrained.

At the beginning of Chapter Four in Parable of the Talents, the Earthseed verse reads “To shape God/ With wisdom and forethought,/To benefit your world,/ Your people,/ Your life,/ Consider consequences,/ Minimize harm/ Ask questions,/ Seek answers,/ Learn,/Teach” (61). I think this fits perfectly with what the teenage boy inventing a new, fingerprint controlled firearm is trying to do. He’s trying to benefit the world and minimize harm. He’s asked questions and he’s sought answers. I think his intentions are good but I’m still not sold on the idea that this technology will cause more good than harm–especially when Butler does such a stupendous job at speculating how finger print technology could be abused in the hands of people desperate to survive. Innovation is never free of consequences, and this innovation is certainly no exception.

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