Star Wars and Vinyl Records: Evidence That Technology Will Not Save Us
Technology will not save us.
That was the message of the first Star Wars movie, released in 1977. It took me a while to get that. Star Wars: A New Hope had such groundbreaking special effects it was easy to get enraptured in the idea that our future would be a painless one of hyperdrives and heroes. It was only when my older brother pointed something out that I got it. At the penultimate moment in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker refuses the computerized aid of his starfighter. After two hours of whiz-bang gadgetry, in the end he had to trust the Force. Technology will not save us. Only God or the Force or the Universal Spirit or whatever you want to call it can. Hopefully the new Star Wars films will remember that message, which the disastrous prequels forgot.
I believe we are seeing hints in the culture of an important moment in which there may be the beginnings of an acknowledgement that technology will not save us–or at least a recognition that there are certain desires that come with being human that technology cannot satisfy.
For me, the most wonderful sign of the return of the human is the resurgent popularity of vinyl records. It’s interesting to hear the reasons people give for preferring a vinyl record to a digital download: the sound is “warmer,” they like to hold the art object of the record sleeve in their hands, and listening to the music takes on a more ritualistic aspect. Last week I had the wonderful experience of going on a pilgrimage to buy a record, John Coltrane’s classic A Love Supreme. I had owned the record on CD and digital download, but I wanted a copy I could hold in my hands. I wanted to touch it, smell that new record smell. A Love Supreme is Coltrane’s prayer to God; it just seems too big an artistic accomplishment to be contained in an iPod. I needed an honest-to-God vinyl LP that I could hold in my hands.
The store Urban Outfitters now has a section dedicated to vinyl records. The one in my hometown of Washington is in Georgetown, and as I walked to it I had a flashback to the 1980s when I regularly went to any one of the three record stores around Wisconsin and M Streets to shop. There was a mediative, contemplative aspect to the process. You’d get into a kind of peaceful spiritual state as you browsed, awash in the album artwork, the music, and thoughts about love, art, and life. It was like praying.
Now, I know it’s important to not become a Luddite. I love the fact that I can catch up with old friends and colleagues on Facebook and that a quick trip to Twitter can link me to interesting articles from around the world. I’m not giving up my iPhone. Or my modern filmmaking equipment. I’m happy to have these things, not to mention modern medicine.
But as Luke Skywalker knew as he approached the Death Star, ultimately technology will not save us. Without a connection to God, or the Force, or a Love Supreme–something that we can feel, taste, touch, and love–it won’t improve us. Indeed, as in the case of the Star Wars prequels, it may in fact do great harm.