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New Outer Limits: “Stream of Consciousness”

If you, like me, are feeling more and more haunted in our information-glutted age of universal online connectedness by T.S. Eliot’s famous lines “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” then maybe you’ll find this 1997 episode from Season 3 of The New Outer Limits to be as compelling as I do. Written by TV writer and producer David Shore (who later created House), “Stream of Consciousness” is a brilliantly conceived and effectively executed dystopian science fictional meditation on the clash between the computer’s “craving” for pure information and the human values and realities of the people who, if we’re not careful, may allow ourselves to become enslaved as instruments for the furtherance of this inhuman imperative.

Here’s the official description, followed by the full episode. If you watch it, notice that at one or two points the dialogue seems to indicate that Shore wrote the episode with Eliot’s words explicitly in mind.

Due to a brain injury, Ryan Unger cannot enjoy the benefits of a neural implant that allows other people to tap into The Stream — a direct connection into all human knowledge. He tries, unsuccessfully, to keep up with everyone else by using a long-forgotten skill: reading books. When the Stream develops a virus causing people to die, Ryan, being the only one that is immune, must use the knowledge he has gained from books to save the world.

Opening narration: We quantify our world in order to learn. We break it down into facts, numbers, information. But how far dare we go before we destroy its mystery?

Closing narration: We make tools to extend our abilities, to further our reach, and fulfill our aspirations. But we must never let them define us. For if there is no difference between tool and maker, then who will be left to build the world?