What Did the Matrix Mean by “Height of Human Civilization?”
In the first installment of The Matrix, the character of Morpheus makes a seemingly ridiculous statement. Morpheus refers to the late twentieth century as “the height of human civilization.” Presumably, he means that humans have accomplished all that they are going to. Only fourteen years later, that statement seems laughable in the age of smart phones, high speed internet, blogging, and social networking. However, there might be a word that is important to consider in that statement. The word is ‘human.’ If the war is between humans and machines, then would not everything after technically be the start of the ‘machine civilization’ in which the ‘human civilization is, in fact, in a state of serious decline? Let’s examine that statement for just a moment.
The Death of DOS
Do you know why Windows Vista was considered to be a success by its creators? It completed a movement started in 2001 with Windows XP. Microsoft was able to successfully create an operating system with a non-DOS (Disk Operating System) kernel at its base. Regardless of what anyone thought of it, this was a truly seismic shift. The shift away from DOS is also something that had not happened yet in the world of the Matrix. What does Neo and all of the rest of his compatriots do? They are hackers. They exploit the flaws in programs based on Disk Operating System. What happens at the beginning of the movie? Neo hands someone a program on a floppy disk. Think about it, the humans are exploiting weaknesses in the computers not vice versa. Today, there are still hackers however you cannot hack based on DOS and floppy disks are not in use. Remember, the imaging programs favor the machines. Without a DOS kernel, then the basis of the operating system now favors the machines.
The Death Of The Land Line
Overall, with the advent of the twenty first century, the landline either has or is quickly becoming a dinosaur. Rotary phones are seen largely as relics. One of the main reasons is that to access systems or enter information requires ‘pulse’ or ‘tone’ dialing. That means that if you call your bank, you cannot enter in your account number with a rotary phone. This also means that signals traveling over copper wire are increasingly being phased out. The explosion of fiber optics has also come with a different animal as far as making phone calls is concerned. Nearly a majority of phone calls these days are made over what is known as ‘voice over ip.’ What is “IP?” IP is what is known as internet protocol. You are actually talking over an internet protocol which is theoretically done on a secure network. The end result is that the machines get a greater amount of control and access to your communications. In the old days, there would have to be a physical hack or a copper wire in order to ‘bug’ a phone call. That physical piece could be found and potentially removed. Now? The people listening on your communications only have to hack into the secure network. There is no physical piece or trace. Imagine if the machines themselves were the ones doing the hacking or listening. The death of the land line does nothing but benefit the rise of ‘machine civilization.’
The Rise of Smart Phones
One of the more prevalent changes in the twenty first century is the rise of smart phones as well as the proliferation of GPS (or global positioning systems). If you think that GPS systems are only for cars, then you might want to pull out your smart phone (chances are that you have one now regardless of age.) Go to an app such as Facebook. There is an option right there to ‘check in.’ In the ‘check in’ feature, you are given a series of options in your local area. You can then simply click on the one in which you are actually standing. Think about that. This means that you can be actively tabbed no matter where you are whether you think that you are carrying a global positioning system or not. Again, this gives the benefit to the side of the machines. In 1999, none of these terms were either not widely known, used for the simply privileged or simply confined to cars. Global Tracking Devices and communication over smart phones only can benefit the machines as well as control of humanity by machines. Smart Phones are a triumph of ‘machine civilization’ and not ‘human civilization.’
Perhaps a major death knell in the ‘height of human civilizations’ (both literally and figuratively) was the attacks on September 11. 2001. If human civilization reached its zenith at the end of the twentieth century, then there would have to be something at the beginning of the twenty first century in order to bring human civilization down. This would also be an additional boon to the machine civilization. After 9/11, there was the passing of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act allowed for more intensive monitoring in order to catch terrorists. In the Matrix, Morpheus as well as his followers are often called by that very word by Smith and the Agents. The more intensive monitoring led to the rise of newer and more intensive monitoring devices which of course increased reliance upon machines. If you were going to have the ‘height of human civilization.’ you would be talking about a world in which the attacks of September 11th, 2001 had not occurred or have really even gotten past the planning stages. There would be a freeze frame in which these horrible events would never occur. If you were going to put people in an idyllic nirvana for human civilization, would it not be one in which 9/11 had yet to or never occurred?
The Rise of the Morlocks
Tech support generally encompasses two things. First of all, tech support is absolutely the most necessary thing in the world when needed. Second, people who do tech support are not well thought of. However, the computer, smart phone, or cable connection has become so important to us and our daily lives that tech support has become one of our most important life lines back to the world in which we know. Little thought ids given to how much control is given in that situation. There is an almost willful ignorance and pride about not having to do tech support for a living. However, there is also an inordinate control given in our society to the people who are shunned but can fix things. In the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine , the Morlocks are given control because they keep the machines running. In order to continue to keep the machines running, the Eloi actually willingly allow the Morlocks to cannibalize their own in return for the machines to keep running. If tech support had the ability to refuse support unless certain conditions were met, what would you be willing to do in order to keep the machines running? Can you still really call it all ‘human civilization?’