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Be Not Afraid

January 14, 2010

With my recent research being fairly broad in scope, I get the chance to read articles and research from all sorts of fields. Focusing on graffiti art, I have read quite a bit about culture jamming and the way contemporary artists use whatever technique available to disseminate their messages. Reading this article last night by Marc Dery, I was struck by this quote:

“Our wars are Nintendo wars, fought with camera-equipped smart bombs that marry cinema and weaponry in a television that kills. Futurologists predict that the flagship technology of the coming century will be ‘virtual reality,’ a computer-based system that immerses users wearing headgear wired for sight
and sound in computer-animated worlds.”

While I don’t disagree with the author’s assertion that the virtual nature of war-coverage has a separating effect from reality, I was drawn to his comment on the futurologists’ prediction that our reality will be overrun by virtual reality.

So much of speculative fiction centers on a fear of a future virtual world that spirals out of control. Watching movies like The Matrix, WALL-E, and others in which human-created technology supplants the level of reality we all know and love would lead one to believe that our culture has a fear of technology that bubbles just beneath the surface, only held in check by the realization that it makes life easier. On the contrary, I believe that we–especially we digital natives–really have no fear that the intelligence of our inventions will outstrip our own. Instead, we are working to convince those less comfortable with the advancements around us to embrace the change and use the tools at their disposal.

Sure, there’s the chance that developers will create a black hole near Geneva or that all our jobs will be stolen by robots but overall, our technological future is bright.

What do you think?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 9:09 pm

    Technology in and of itself is not a thing. A chair is a piece of technology, printing presses are technologies, the octave is a technology, democracy is a technology. Each technology has both plusses and minuses, each technology has a level of influence upon society, each technology must be evaluated for itself. The whole concept of blanket statements for and against “technology” is really absurd.

    But there are problems with “technology” generally that do need to be addressed, specifically – due to capitalism I guess – technology has taken on a life of its own. Man has already lost control of his creations. We cannot say for instance “look actually, even though cars make our lives easier, the costs outweigh the benefits” even though cars kill hundreds of thousands of people a year, even though they have a massive environmental impact, even though they also have more subtle but equally troubling social and psychological impacts – even though the invention of the car has fundamentally altered the structure of our cities and towns. We can’t, either as a town, or an individual or probably even on the level of a nation decide “you know what, these cars aren’t worth it” even if we decide that we think they aren’t because the people who opt for the cars will outcompete those who do, on strictly utilitarian economic measures – and so all the other things, are sacrificed on the alter of economics, man cannot stop it, the “progress” marches on even when the consequences are immense.

    Even as short a time ago as when my dad was a young man, he reports that the obsessive “busyness” that people have these days, the guilt trips about anyone who is not constantly working, the oft referenced “fast pace of modern life” – was not there. Although some of that was a social change (although there is such a thing as social technology) a lot of it is simply down to the fact that it is more possible to keep people busy now, people can work on their laptops from home or on the train, infrastructural changes mean that its not as necessary for anyone to make long walks to get to places and take in the air and nature as a part of daily life (unless they actively schedule to do so), the media and information is all the more ubiquitous. And the pace of change is frighteningly rapid. Even when I was a child things were different, people read books more, there was more direct face to face social interaction… now people seem to spend all their time online, they feel more comfortable talking to each other in chat windows than directly…

    Technology is not neutral, it changes everything – especially the ubiquity of more recent information technologies. It is impossible to escape to a place where their mythmaking power does not reach. I hear on my tv, and over my computer – all about this and that going on all over the world, none of it is real to me. Oh yes, it references real events, happening to real people – but all I can hear of it are stories, and not stories told by people, but stories told, edited and compiled by giant faceless corporations with massive departments whose job it is to sell the story, to tell it in order to provoke particular reactions. This never would have been possible before the advent of mass media for instance, the real, actually experienced – would never have seemed almost unreal compared to the manufactured realities of the News (or the alternative internet news for those who just don’t trust the “mainstream” so buy into the equally lucrative and mercantile “alternative” instead – same for medicine, people decrying the “big drug companies” who “only care about profits” as if the glorified placebo mongers selling homeopathy or whatever else were not in it for the money).

    If you are not frightened by technology… I think you really need to look harder at its transformative power. I mean, take this for instance, had it not been for the invention of the printing press – it is improbable that man ever would have managed to create the atom bomb. Maybe he wouldn’t have managed to create antibiotics either of course, maybe antibiotics are worth modern weapons? But to the dead guy, whether its plague or one of America’s new “smart bombs” I am not sure it makes such a difference.

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