Is this world all there is? Where does our hope for a better future lie? What role should technology play in our lives? The Blessed Machine, my first graphic novel effort and Cave Pictures Publishing’s latest title, grapples with these age-old and universal questions.
From Facebook to Fortnite, over the past year, the news has seen multiple stories about technological overreach. There were two high profile articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about the ways in which video games and our smartphones are enslaving us to our chemical impulses. In the Times profile, Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and the head of a robotics and drone company, was quoted as saying, “We thought we could control it…. And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.” He also compared the effect screens have on users to “crack cocaine.”
In that same New York Times piece, Athena Chavarria, who works at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, commented, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) included “gaming disorder” in its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD). And there is an entire website called Virtual Addiction, which provides resources and consultation for screen addicts and offers a Smartphone Compulsion Test to help identify addictive behaviors.
These concerns are not new. Throughout our history, advancements in technology brought with them fears of what an out-of-control innovation could do. Countless fictional stories have explored a future in which man is enslaved to technology, or his technological Tower of Babel collapses.
Twenty years ago, I read E. M. Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops,” written in 1908. Although a romantic writer, Forster took one stab at science fiction, and I was taken aback by his prescient prediction of our dependence on technology. Forster anticipated streaming video, the internet, and social media. His dystopian future does not end well. Ironically, a few years later, mechanized warfare ravaged the European continent, fulfilling in part, his prophetic vision of the destructive power of machines.
In his story, Forster doesn’t bother detailing the event which forces mankind underground and makes him fully dependent on a Machine. When I started a script in 2001, based in part on his short story, I used the imminent completion of the CERN super collider as my inciting incident. The pursuit of the Higgs Boson particle—called the God Particle—is one of the collider’s first objectives, which makes the point we can be tempted to view technology as our savior.
Since writing the first draft, films such as The Matrix, WALL-E, AI, Ex Machina, Avengers: Ultra, Passengers, and I, Robot have all explored similar themes. But there was something deeper, something metaphysical in Forster, that these films lack.
As Cave Pictures Publishing surveyed stories we felt were aligned with our vision, I was thrilled to find accomplished comics author and illustrator Jesse Hamm willing to convert my screenplay to a comic series, titled The Blessed Machine.
Jesse agreed the big question in life we all need to answer is whether this is all there is. Is there something else beyond the material world that is just as real as that which we can measure, explore, see, and build? C. S. Lewis’s twin tales “The Great Divorce” and The Space Trilogy—notably its final book, That Hideous Strength—were my guides to creatively exploring this question. I’ve noticed similar themes recently in stories by M. Night Shyamalan, Scott Derrickson, Christopher Nolan, and Jeff Nichols.
Is this all there is? If so, then it’s no surprise that depression, suicide, and other self-destructive behavior is on the rise. As we become more isolated from each other, and religion has less relevance in our lives, where do we find meaning? Why are we here? What is our purpose?
Technology is not inherently bad. The progress from the garden to a city in the biblical account of social progress points to the divine use of it. But our growing dependence on technology should not be embraced without a reminder that we are not simply products of time and chance, or evolutionary and genetic determination.
We are more, and each of us is uniquely endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights. It is essential for our society to revisit this basic question. Our founding fathers’ answer laid the foundation of our liberal society and our future depends on how we answer it today.
As Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of London, wrote: “We are the only life form thus far known capable of asking the question, Why? We remain, what in religious language we call the image and likeness of God. Which means we can choose our fate, in the full dignity of responsibility, never forgetting that machines were made to serve humankind—not the other way around.”
There is something more. What is it? Pursuing the answer to that question is what the journey of life is all about, and our hope is that The Blessed Machine will help people along their way.