“When the Levee Breaks”3

And so here we are, hopefully at the end of your journey through time and technology. I sincerely hope something has been learned and gained as you have traveled from pre-history to now. I understand if you’ve skipped around, my little history “game” was perhaps not for everyone. Though the question remains: what is this artifact? To that, I tell you I’ve lied to you. This artifact is not pre-historic. It’s not even 20 years old. This little fragment of concrete is a piece of one of the levees that failed in 2005 in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. This piece of broken stone is a testament to the errs of technology — mechanical and organic.

“History shows again and again

How nature points out the folly of men”

Godzilla, Blue Öyster Cult

The folly of man can very often be directly linked to his hubris. Virtually nowhere is hubris higher than in this country. We are the United States of America. We will chant “U.S.A.” at the top of our lungs at any given moment and choruses of Americans will join in without thought. So when the Category 5 hurricane threatened one of the liveliest cities in the United States then, obviously, as one New Orleans resident so aptly put it 10 years after the storm, “…the nation that put Neil Armstrong on the moon had constructed … reliable … dikes, levees, pump houses and flood walls to protect the ragged-boot heel of Louisiana.” Nevertheless, Katrina persisted. And decimated.

So where are we left to place the blame? Well, if you’ve done any sort of research on the disaster, blame was vehemently thrown in many different directions in the aftermath of the storm. The engineers blamed the storm for being too big for those amazing American dikes, levees, pump houses, and floodwalls to handle; it wasn’t possibly their fault, nature was simply too powerful. The federal government (and those who believed them) blamed the state government for not preparing well enough; they didn’t reach out for help in time for the federal government to possibly be able to do anything. So, again, where does the blame lie?

If, as I have posited, humans are a technology, would we not be the malfunctioning technology in this case? It was eventually revealed that the engineers who built the levees hadn’t yet finished the work, and what they had done was shoddy work. It was eventually revealed that the Louisiana state government actually did reach out to the federal government and plead for help prior to Katrina making landfall. So, I say again, are we not the technology that failed at that moment? On a mechanical level with the engineers and on a sociological level with the feuding governments? After all, is a civilization not just another human construct, another technology, used to advance humanity?

Isn’t that what technology is for? Progression? Evolution? I say yes. We are a technology. We did fail in both the disaster and the immediate aftermath because of hubris and conceit, rather than overheating or glitching as a traditional technology would. Nature did point out the folly of man, the failure of us as a technology, in 2005, and she may well again. After all, Katrina wasn’t even the first3, and doubtfully the last.

To err is human. To malfunction is machine. Technology is both and neither. Technology is tangible and not. Technology is machine. Technology is us.