Mo Lotman is an author, public speaker, voice-talent, and radio personality. He wrote the pop-culture retrospective Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 and a middle-grade novel which he is currently shopping. He was the host and originator of Nerd Nite in Northampton, Massachusetts. He launched The Technoskeptic in 2015 and now lives in Cambridge.
I remember the exact moment. It was the late 90s, and people were getting ballsy, futzing around with genetics. Genzyme was breeding goats with drugs in their milk. Dolly the sheep was cloned. And then, this–this– abomination. There really is no other word for it. When I saw it, it was a combination of horror and confusion. What IS that thing? To look closely was to invite a wave of nausea; I had to turn away. But there was no mistaking it. Someone, some godawful person, had grown a human ear on the back of a mouse. A human ear? On a mouse? Why? Whywhywhy? It was then that I realized: technology is no longer cool and fun. It is creepy. And people have obviously run out of ideas that actually improve our lives in a meaningful way. Now we are simply developing technology because we can. Because we think we’re supposed to. Because the ends justify the means. The instinctive moral disgust that we as humans share when confronted with such manipulations of nature is seemingly being phased out along with our land-lines and film cameras.
Until that point technology had excited me and seemed to offer endless improvements. ATMs, VCRs, cable TV, computers, CDs, and the Internet—I was a fan of it all. But after the mouse, I realized there was no one in the driver’s seat and no superego to technology’s unbridled id. Our lives had been made easy and our nation rich. There wasn’t anything I longed for that didn’t exist. How could that not be enough? And what horrid new development was now around the corner? Human clones? Sentient robots? What was recently dystopian science-fiction now seemed genuinely possible. I realized that from then on, technology’s sinister side would cast its diminishing practical triumphs into shadow. The ear, as it turned out, was not a genetic manipulation but a scaffold-built hunk of cow cartilage implanted onto the back of a hairless mouse. Still—eww. A technoskeptic was born.