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Prometheus Wired!

The enduring strength of Greek myths is that they readily adapt to modern circumstances. Their ancient insights shed light on current phenomena. Inherently moral and social, Greek myths offer lessons we can live by, both individually and communally.

One of my favorites is that of the Titan Prometheus. He is the giant deity who took pity on the plight of mortals. He paid a terrible price for his compassion.

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In the cruel duality of the myth, Prometheus, seeing humanity cold, hungry, and living in the dark, stole fire from Olympus and gave it to humans. Angered by this, Zeus had him chained to a rock, where an eagle daily pecked at him. He endured this until Hercules came and set him free.

One part of the meaning of the Prometheus myth says that a price must be paid for progress. Fire is technology. Technology comes with a two-edged sword. Zeus cursed mortals and said that their new possession would not only cook food and light homes, but it would also forge metal weapons to make war even more terrible.

Read Judy Silber's article on the satellite tagging of large ocean-dwelling animals in light of the myth of Prometheus. Intended as a way of tracking fish and animal migrations in the vast seas, the new technology easily falls on the "light" side of the Promethean insight. Learning more about the behavior of these marine animals so as to protect them from overfishing, hunting, or just plain wanton destruction is good.

Yet consider these tracking devices, now readily affordable and increasingly available, in the hands of humans tracking humans. A good thing? A bad thing?

Miniature electronic devices easily track the movement of individuals who are completely unaware of their presence. Parents in Japan can now rent a bug no bigger than a credit card from a private investigative company. Slipped in the backpack of their child, it transmits sound to a receiver as far as 1,000 feet away. It costs as little as $750.

Often done by loving parents concerned that their child is getting involved with drugs, or possibly mixing with gang members, this can be viewed as a positive use of technology.

The slightest consideration of the devices Ms. Silber writes about demands that we develop wise and ethical approaches to their use, not just for animals, but for our fellow humans.

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One given of the 21st century is that technological change will continue and intensify. Nothing new in that observation. Considering these rapid developments in the light of ancient myths allows us to be our own Hercules, bringing wisdom to ethical behavior that breaks the potential chains of modern inventions.

* Comments or questions? Write to Ideas Editor, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail

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