On the back page of the Week In Review section of todays New York Times ran this piece about commentators misinterpreting the real import of technological advances. I’m not sure what the point is: should we stop trying to interpret our world since our interpretations might be at some point, like Bush’s Iraq justifications, no longer be operative? Should we just sit with slack jaws and mouths agape at the magical gifts science has bequeathed and accept that all change is automatically positive, a betterment of our world and an extension of our possibilities? The author seems to suggest its wrong that critics and futuriststried to assert control over technology by commenting on it. Better for them to have left that to the State? to Corporate masters? to the People? When confronted with a magic technology it seems vital to demystify it, not to cower in silent awe before it. Integrating it into a fantastic vision of the future is an attempt to demystify it just as much as a dismissal.
I’m often denouncing new technologies in this blog largely because that kind of positivist bias seems to me to typify the passivity cosumer capitalism requires of its subjects while enabling what seems to me the erosion of the human spirit in the name of celebrating it. Technology is not inherent evil, of course. It’s just that the direction it takes in our society — to encourage a more rapacious use of the Earth’s resources, to lead to quicker more expediant consumption and destruction and waste of things in the name of “enjoyment’ pr “entertainment’ or “satisfaction” — and the uses to which it is typically put — to further isolate people and interpose more commerce and exploitation into the spaces between intimates — are troubling.
Technology promises change, but more often than not the change is superficial; in reality technology, funded as it is by the powers that be, is designed to reinforce existing relations of production, existing social relations in all their inequity. The superficial changes — talking pictures or voices plucked from the ether or downloadable music — are sufficiently amazing to beguile us and prevent us from wondering what ends this white magic serves.