The Technium

So Amazing, But Nobody is Happy

“Everything is so amazing and nobody is happy.”

It is true. We take for granted the miracles we get from technology, and complain when the miracles aren’t perfect. This comedian’s routine on the Conan O’Brien show is funny, mocking our ingratitude. I post it here because the rant is a cartoon version of a more serious argument that we become blind to progress.


  • yas

    @ Tom Buckner, re: “secret work-action rebellion” — Brin is basically referring to the replacement of Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. He discusses it in this blog post:

    and has a similar theory about Obama’s victory in this one:

  • Michael

    evobrain, thanks for the Mitchel link! The video hit the spot. That we become blind to what we think we know also includes the phenomenon that when we see that a new building has replaced an older one we usually hardly remember what stood there before. Once change has happened its almost too late to become aware what we have lost. We just become aware that the world has changed. Rarely in one big step, but in many many small increments.

  • gabriel yanagihara

    That’s amazing! I see technology as the “Why not” factor of my generation. When we want to do something and currently can’t, we go… why not?

    “Why not?” is the motivator for everything that we will create. And with Moore’s law, I often fantasize in my own sick way what we as a species will have for the coming generation.

    Some of these perhaps?

  • katt

    This guy is the bomb. I agree with everything he said. We do take evrything in life for granted,and we shouldn’t. I myself think technology is a great thing but we shouldn’t let it rule our life.I don’t.Yea, I love my cell ph. and having internet just like all of you,but remember your roots and where it all started from. Thanks for your time,Katt.

  • seslichat

    I find this article very inspiring and thought provoking.Thankyou for the insight. Seslichat

  • kyndall

    This is so funny, because it is true. We take things for granted and I think it would be great for us to be a little more grounded these days.

  • Tom Buckner

    @ yas: Thanks!

    I think evobrain makes a good point: yes, we’re taking things for granted, but to some degree that means we’ve assimilated the new input and are ready for more.

  • Lynne

    Great post. Far funnier than his stint as Amy P’s love interest/cop on Parks and Recreation last season!

  • Industry

    Cell phones don’t go to space….

  • Shar

    This guy is great. I know I’m always amazed when I run my computer and the printer does things for me that are very complicated, and the list goes on. How about party lines in the last part of the 20th century? You could do a whole gig just on that! Loved him & would like to see more of him.

  • Dorian Taylor

    This is extremely refreshing. Who is this guy?

  • Ray
  • matt

    Very funny and poignant too. Louis CK is the gent’s name btw.

  • William Pietri

    That would be the comedian Louis C.K.; he’s hit the nail pretty well on the head. Thanks for the clip.

  • cnawan

    And just look at you, Mr. Pietri – contributing selflessly to the overall useful information of the world. That also doesn’t suck. :)
    In some ways I find that even more of a powerful change than flying, etc., the ways we interact and organise now, boosting our apparent worth to one another on this globally visible stage. In the end it’s a lot harder to demonise a group of people and condone dropping bombs on them if you had a nice chat yesterday.

  • Barbara

    I’m always amazed at how thought provoking a comic skit like this can be for people and some of the comments it elicits. ‘Mildly amusing but completely misses the point.’ He’s a comedian, how did me miss the point? He’s not trying to change the world, just making us aware of how comical our expectations can be.

    I’ve long held on to some old fashioned values; water and gas conservation on a personal level, not talking on my cell phone when in a conversation with someone else, not expecting the world to stop just for my own personal demands – so for me, even though a comedy routine, I get it…we are a rude, expectant society and it never surprises me that the world sees us in a light that’s not always particularly positive.

    What I loved from these comments though; knowing I’m not the only person who is filled with amazement and some trepidation when on a plane, I NEVER fly without the thought being constant, ‘How the heck does this thing work and stay up here!’

    Doesn’t matter that my father was a pilot and he can absolutely explain the aerodynamics to me, for me it’s just the simple fact of comparing the weight of a jet and people onboard to lightness of air and being awed by the fact that it’s possible!

  • David Brin

    “We all are collapsitarians these days.”

    Et tu, Kevin? Sorry, my dear frind… but what a load! Talk to the kids. They are up for the challenges ahead.

    Oh, sure, the collapse fetishism you talk about is there. From Jared Diamond’s valuable — but ultimately dispeptic and unwise book COLLAPSE to the History Channel’s most popular show ever – LIFE AFTER PEOPLE (which airs again this Saturday and has plenty of face time from yours truly ;-)

    Indeed, my new novel – EXISTENCE – goes through a long litany of ways that intelligent species can blow it.

    But dig it, Kevin. Not all science fiction swallows this crap. The best is counter-cyclical. Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear and Kim Stanley Robinson portray civilization reacting with vivid, realtime, bottom-up creativity. I’ve been known to do that, too. (Hey! did you notice the Swiss are getting hammered for banking secrecy, as I forecast in EARTH 20 years ago? That makes 24 “hits” in that book.;-)

    Look, even the powers that be are starting to shift. The military staged a secret work-action rebellion, two years ago, that saved the US. Is that collapsitarian? The country elected Mr. Hope… who then not only extolled science, but inserted the word “curiosity” as one of the top six values, in his speech.

    Cheer up my friend. As Jamais Cascio says,
    “In good times, pessimism is a luxury; but in bad times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling and fatal prophecy.” You, of all people, are still needed on the front lines.

    david brin

  • andy

    @David – +1

  • Ivo Quartiroli

    Technology will never be enough. Technology is a reflection of mind’s nature to be somewhere else, maybe in a “better” future when technology will “finally” do this or that. Anything technology creates will soon become obsolete in our mind, keeping us busy with our toys for thinking, perhaps until we discover inner silence again.

  • Carla

    I am amazed at flying every time I do it, which is a LOT. As a person of the world I’m still very grateful for what I’ve made of my life.
    Love this routine with Conan.

  • Joe Dolan

    Nice to see Louie back in action since his brilliant sitcom was cancelled. Great insightful stuff!

    Los Angeles

  • Michael

    I believe its an evolutionary thing why we so easily adapt to new stimuli. Once we think we know what something is we stop ‘actively’ perceiving it.
    The good side of that is that we are not constantly overwhelmed by information, we filter; – the downside is that our built-in ‘numbing’ results in a kind of ‘arms race’ of technologies of ever more bigger, faster and noisier applications with ever more vivid content.

  • Daniel Gardner

    Just discovered this video due to Facebook and find this guy VERY refreshing. He should be President of the WORLD.

    Thank you Louis C.K.!!!

  • Dan Z

    Happiness is driven by expectations and is therefore a very relative term. If you expect your flight to board and be in the air in 20 minutes and it takes 40 minutes, you will be unhappy. If it takes 10 minutes, you will be happy.
    If everyone around you every day has a perfectly working cell phone and yours is slow or drops calls, you will probably be unhappy.

    It’s always relative to what “the norm” is. But I still found his rant to be quite entertaining.

  • evobrain

    In some ways this is part of the way an intelligent being learns – whether human or AI. When a new event is perceived it is first treated as a novelty, with either a positive or negative reaction. Then the novelty is replaced by an expectation. This is the basis of learning. When the expectation is not met, there is the accompanying emotion of disappointment or even anger or frustration.

    Tom Mitchell, Chair of the Machine Learning Dept. at Carnegie Mellon, has spoken about how this learning activity takes place. He’s done actual experiments in this area.

    With the current exponential pace of Progress there is even a hidden expectation that there will be continued improvement. So even when the state of technology is the same, this is viewed as a disappointment. I once showed my nephew my new GPS. His reaction was “I wonder what a GPS will do when I grow up?” His generation is trained to expect technology to become obsolete in a matter of months.

    The clip was great! I laughed ’til I cried. Every time I get on a plane and look out the window I think how much an ancient Greek philosopher like Aristotle would have loved to be able to be in my position. In many ways a common person in the US lives better than a king in medieval times. And yet, we take it all for granted.


  • Justin

    OK, I’ll admit it. he actually got to me. lol. I’m exactly that type of person that always finds the ONE LITTLE negative thing and so much so that I may be looking like an idiot overlooking the obvious HUGE positive of it. Makes ya think.

  • Jack

    I had this same realization about ten years ago when my interest in astronomy began! I did some reading at the library, then went and bought an 80mm refracting telescope. After setting it up and spending a few minutes with it, gazing at all the usual “beginner’s stuff” (Saturn, moons of jupiter, etc.) and wishing I had sprung for the 120mm model, it hit me — this instrument, which after an hours’ use I’ve deemed insufficient, was puchased with a mere day’s salary yet finer than anything all the wealth of all the kings of europe could have purchased for Galileo Galilei.

    My ungrateful self went inside for some hot coffee and a snack, then returned a more satisfied observer.

    (Six years later I upgraded to an 8″ Meade auto-tracking scope. A week’s salary to see the dust storms on Mars? Worth every penny and it still amazes me.)

  • Mick the Prick

    Well, he’s got some good points, but still, all these “technological wonders” he’s raving about came to be because people were one way or another unsatisfied with the way things went and wanted a change. So developement does require at least bit of unsatisfaction.

    Still, he makes a valid argument that no matter how good we have it, we still can’t just stop for a moment and just be thankful.

  • Dan

    Saw this on Conan a while back. Very good bit. Louis CK makes a lot of great points.

    Anachronisms aside, this highlights how our society still is fundamentally caught up in the modernist and Victorian notions of human progress. We fundamentally believe in the virtuous power of technology to better the world… and often times it does.

    OH POST-MODERNISM. How you do confuse us so.

    I like your mandate! Keep on keep on.

  • Christiaan

    Mildly amusing but completely misses the point. It’s not that people are idiots that makes them complain about technology. It’s the excessively high expectations created via advertising by those who want to profit from the technology that causes this divide.

    The real idiots, I find, are the geeks and technorati who think other people are idiots for not having as much experience with complex technology as they do.

  • Mark

    @David Brin: But KK has a dog in this fight. As (inexplicably) a Christian, he is one of those who sees the fulfillment of scripture as a GOOD thing. I’ve met many Christians who felt it was their honored duty to hasten and encourage any paths that lead to Armageddon. Does KK harbor, even subconsciously, such impulses? Who knows?

    • @Mark said, “But KK has a dog in this fight. As (inexplicably) a Christian, he is one of those who sees the fulfillment of scripture as a GOOD thing.”

      As I mentioned to David when we spoke today, my comment that “we are all collapsitarians” was a poor choice of words. It was meant to convey that collapsitarism was the collective mood at the moment. I however personally remain an unabashed full-steam-ahead optimist. Others will now chime in that that is because I am am (inexplicably) a Christian, I am one of those who sees progress as the fulfillment of scripture. But as you say, maybe despite my relentless upbeat optimism I harbor subconscious impulses for doom. Who knows?

  • Avi Solomon

    I’m stuck to the plane window everytime I fly:)
    Apart from not appreciating technology, we simply don’t appreciate the very fact of BEING rather than NOT- we close ourselves off to the WONDER OF IT ALL which, when you whittle down to it, is the only thing we can really DO during our short stay on this planet.

    “SOCRATES: Surely you’re following, Theaetetus; it’s my impression at any rate that you’re not inexperienced in things of this sort.
    THEAETETUS: Yes indeed, by the gods, Socrates, I wonder exceedingly as to why (what) in the world these things are, and sometimes in looking at them I truly get dizzy.
    SOCRATES: The reason is, my dear, that, apparently, Theodorus’ guess about your nature is not a bad one, for this experience is very much a philosopher’s,that of wondering. For nothing else is the beginning (principle) of philosophy than this, and, seemingly, whoever’s genealogy it was, that Iris was the offspring of Thaumas (wonder), it’s not a bad one.”
    -Plato (Theaetetus,155c-d)

  • faith looney

    OMG this is the funnyest thing i have ever seen!!!!
    im 11 years old and almost cried thats the funnyest thing EVER!!!
    i love that guy!!

  • Tom Buckner

    Saw that Louis C.K. rant about a week ago. It is classic. And big ups to David Brin for the feel-good comment of the week (if you’ll pardon me a groady Hollywood paraphrase). If anyone can point to some good inside info about that “military … secret work-action rebellion, two years ago, that saved the US,” I’d love to read more, because all we’ve really heard is rumor and whispers. I strongly suspected that was the only possible explanation for why we even had an election, but inquiring minds, etc.

    There’s a similar sentiment expressed in the very quotable Richard Linklater film “Waking Life”:

    Man on the Train: Hey, are you a dreamer?
    Wiley: Yeah.
    Man on the Train: I haven’t seen too many around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language. Nobody teaches it so nobody knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored, this is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. And things are just starting.”

  • .jonah

    Great things to remind ourselves of.

    I’m reading Donald A. Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes In The Age Of The Machine. Technology should be our servant, not our master.


  • Robertsonline

    Good choice of words and food for thought always best to see the lighter side of a complex issue

  • Naveen Bachwani

    Simply brilliant!

    Thanks for the reminder…

  • Pamela

    I just watched this on someone else’s site – it is very funny!

  • gwern

    If it weren’t for statistics, I wouldn’t be able to fly as I think about all the parts in a jet airplane and how close to death I could be.

    Incidentally, I think he gets cellphones wrong – they’re not going out to ‘space’ (unless you have a damn fancy cell/satellitephone), just to the nearest cellphone tower.

  • Alexander Falk

    Brilliant! Thanks for some perspective and the reminder of how rotary phone worked – I grew up with them, too. To take it one step further: my parent’s rotary phone in Vienna was a “quarter phone connection”. In the same apartment building 4 people shared one phone line. So you had to push a funny relay button, and you only got to access the line if the other 3 apartments weren’t using it at the moment. It made a clickety-click-click-clack sound when you got the line…

  • Hatemonger

    This video isn’t in HD?

    That’s bullshit.

  • Todd Bell

    What a moron.
    The same thing could be said of his generation.
    Or any generation for that matter.

    Before the telephones he used they had to use telegrams. He basically voided his entire point by saying he though people with zero’s were jackasses.

  • Tim

    Very, very cool. What was it like before computers, Daddy?

  • thx…

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