Henry David Thoreau, Walden
One of the most important ingredients in our picture of The Crisis is technology. There are perfectly obvious reasons for saying this. Our addiction to fossil fuels, for example, is undoubtedly effecting global weather patterns and atmospheric toxicity, which in turn effects the lives of hairless apes and other critters all over the planet in unintended ways. But there are less obvious and more subtle reasons that are crucial to our picture, for they both produce The Crisis and offer opportunities for negotiating The Crisis. The key to shifting our understanding to these subtle reasons is to understand that technologies inevitably alter our brainworld and thereby our consciousness and experience; reasons often overlooked or ignored, because the tendency of people infected by dualistic thinking is to associate technologies with the body, but not the mind.
What I want to do in this post is discuss technology in such a way that we can see how it intervenes in the interaction between the brainworld and reality – inevitably altering BOTH brainworld and reality. In order to do this, we have to come to a common understanding of what we mean by technology, so that we can get a better feel for what is meant by techno-consciousness and technocratic culture.
What Do We Mean By "Technology?"
Unfortunately, there is confusion over the exact meaning of "technology" in the literature. In its most simplistic and commonplace usage, the term technology refers to tools and the use of tools to do things. In its broadest sense, however, the term, and its related terms "technique" and "technical," can refer to any attention to procedure in accomplishing some practical end. Robert Spier, in his book From the Hand of Man, while acknowledging this broader sense, chooses to restrict himself to the most narrow materialist sense of the term:
"’Technology’ is used... to refer to the means by which man seeks to modify or control his natural environment. Excluded are the magico-religious means by which he may seek the same ends. It is tempting to confine technology to "rational" means, but this is best avoided when we are unable to examine others' rationalities. It should be noted here that technological pursuits may have their magico-religious aspects, but these are auxiliary to an avowedly technical approach" (Spier 1970: 2).
For Spier, as for many anthropologists and philosophers, a clear distinction between things physical (or natural) and things mental seems to make perfect sense. By way of contrast, A.F.C. Wallace in his text, Religion: An Anthropological View, uses a broader and more cross-culturally accurate sense of technology by including aspects Spier would code as "magico-religious" -- for example, ritual:
"Technological rituals are rituals intended to control various aspects of nature, other than man himself, for the purpose of human exploitation. There are two obvious and ubiquitous kinds of technological ritual: divination and hunting and agricultural rites of intensification. Ritual that aims to extract useful information from nature is called divination. Ritual that purports directly or indirectly to control the availability and fertility of game..., of flocks and herds, or of wild and cultivated vegetable crops is called rites of intensification. We may also add a third category: protective rituals, intended to prevent or avoid a diversity of ills or disasters..." (Wallace 1966: 107-108).
Yet even in Wallace’s view there is a distinction being made between those things of a physical nature and those of a non-physical nature. As we have seen in the previous post, this mind-body dualism distorts the reality of the process we refer to as "technology." Technology in fact is the physical extension of technique, and technique is already physical due to the intervention of the body between the brainworld and reality. As the philosopher Martin Heidegger has pointed out, restricting our understanding of the concept "technology" to tools, tool-use, or even practical, tool-like rituals, will result in our failing to get at the full essence of technology.
As I will use the term here, "technology" includes both techniques and artifacts. Techniques are procedures for getting things done in the real world, and imply some alteration of both brainworld and real world through the intervention of somatic activity. If I am having trouble keeping the deer away from my garden, for example, I may have recourse to putting up a ten foot fence to block the deer’s hungry ingress. Or, I might keep watch day and night and shoo away or shoot any deer or other critters that enter my garden. Or, I might stake a junk yard dog right in the middle of the garden to scare the deer and everything else away. These are different techniques for getting the same thing done. They both involve activity of my mind AND body. Which technique I choose depends a lot on what I know about gardening and wildlife, so the technique I use to get the job done depends upon the knowledge I have stored in my brainworld.
All of these techniques also happen to involve artifacts. Artifacts are the material transformations of the physical world that are used to alter and extend the limitations of the unaided body. We have many labels for different kinds of artifacts we use in our daily lives, including "appliance," "tool," "utensil," "weapon," "vehicle," "tackle," "text," "art," "monument," "clothing," and on and on. Anything whatever that hairless apes make with their clever hands to aid them doing stuff (keeping the deer at bay) is an artifact (leash for the dog, shotgun, fencing materials and tools to build fences). Because artifacts are meaningful objects to those who make and use them, they are symbols to the brainworld, and thus we can refer to all artifacts as artifacts of knowledge -- the material products, representation and expression of the brainworld and it’s knowledge. Some artifacts facilitate the occurrence of desired sensory events; for instance, a shotgun brings down a deer (mmm... yummy venison!). Other artifacts may operate in a primarily symbolic way; for instance, little tags at the head of rows informing us of what was planted there. The same artifact may operate in both ways; for instance, a physician's stethoscope may facilitate the physician's desire to hear a heartbeat, and wrapped around her neck, may be a symbol of the physician's status as "doctor" for the patient. And in each and every case the artifact is perceived and is meaningful to the user prior to and during its use. It is this technological interaction between the brainworld and reality that is facilitated and expressed by material transformations in the physical world -- transformations that we normally refer to as technology.
What we have done here is change what we mean by "technology" to incorporate the brainworld, body, physical artifacts and reality in a single process of interaction. Orientation toward the processes of interaction, rather than merely toward the material artifacts, will allow us to see that: (1) treating artifacts as if they are the essence of technical culture is wrong-headed, (2) artifacts and techniques feed back into and alter human experience and hence the brainworld; (3) artifacts are both the product of, and the expression of the brainworld’s cognitive competence, (4) language and technology evolved in tandem as two media for manipulation and control of the physical and social events in the world, (5) technology through much of human evolution has for the most part been an existentially empowering process, but for much of modern humanity has become a disempowering process, (6) technologies feed back into and produce transformations in the human being, and (7) the technological process influences the way in which individuals come to experience and know themselves.
Heidegger On Technology
We are relying here on the phenomenology of technology, so it would be useful to spend a brief time looking at the origins of this perspective in the writings of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger wrote in reaction to the naively commonsense notions that: (1) technology is inherently either good (the utopian error), or that it is bad (the dystopian error), and (2) human technological culture is somehow distinct from nature. These are cultural fictions derived from our failure to understand technology from the perspective of mature contemplation, and to be constantly trapped in our culture's "natural attitude" toward mind-body dualism (mental-physical, cultural-natural), as we saw in the last post.
To understand technology phenomenologically means that we are grounded in our direct experience of the technological process. This PC in front of me is not just a thing "out there" that I somehow relate to. Rather, the machine is an extension of my brainworld by means of which I fulfil my desire -- in this case the desire to set down my ideas and to communicate with you. Actually, my desire to communicate with you cannot be fulfilled without a whole system of technological extensions to my brainworld, including my computer, my modem, my telephone, the intervening telephone system with its grids and up and down links to satellites, the mainframe servers, your terminal or computer/modem setup, perhaps your printer and your eye glasses (if you wear them) -- and then the return process if your were to respond to me online. All of these extensions are integrated into a single process from intention to fulfilment, and it all withdraws from our consciousness to the extent that it does its work well.
By "withdrawal" Heidegger means that just as our body's activities get lost to consciousness when they are carried out habitually and with competence, so too does technology. Heidegger uses the example of someone learning to use a hammer (the famous "Heidegger's Hammer" metaphor). If I am just learning to use a hammer, at first I am very aware of the hammer and its possibilities are alien to me. But with repeated use and explorations of possibilities, I become transformed. My motor systems and neural systems adapt to the new movements necessary to become a competent hammerer. And during this period of transformation the hammer recedes from my consciousness and becomes more and more an extension of my brainworld and its intentions and activities. And eventually, of course, the world becomes a collection of hammer-able things. My entire consciousness of the world changes, profoundly or subtly, because the technology allows (in Heidegger's terms) nature to "announce" its functions to me -- i.e., the world reveals to me how it can be used. The meaning of the hammer becomes its hammering limitations and possibilities.
A word more about this "announcing" business -- for this is from the early Heidegger of Being and Time vintage. Nature can just be present for me ("oh, what a lovely tree!") or it can "announce" its properties to me ("the windmill tells me that the wind can produce power that lifts water out of the ground"). As Heidegger would say, technology transforms mere presence into announcement -- the world becomes "ready for us to use." The telescope did not merely change the presence of the cosmos, it opened up a whole new body of knowledge and applications of the cosmos. So, according to this early Heideggerian view, I not only learn to hammer, the hammer-able world opens up with a new body of knowledge about the hardness and penetrate-ableness/penetrating-ness of things. I gradually begin to experience the world as a carpenter does. The world is not merely full of pretty trees, but of usable lumber that can be hammered into knew configurations.
Now, the later Heidegger, of "The Question Concerning Technology" era -- the best source for Heidegger on techno-consciousness, by the way -- goes farther than this to say that for modern humans, technology is so all-pervasive that it conditions our entire experience of self and world. This is Heidegger of the "we dwell in the house we built" phase of his thinking. Technology "enframes" all of our knowledge and experience. As such, this is neither good nor bad. It’s just our nature. Our nature is technical. Technology is the extension into the physical world of our brainworld intentionality and somatic activity. And in more modern times, our capacity to extend our brainworld into the physical world has so radically changed nature that, for us, nature becomes a repository of resources we can assimilate into our intentionality, and use for our own purposes. It is our primary window into truth because technology allows nature to "announce" its properties to us.
What is neat about the phenomenology of technology is that it allows us to avoid all those tacky, misleading dualisms (nature vs. culture, natural vs. technological, mental vs. physical, etc., etc.) that trap our thinking about technology and its lawful development. Technology is a window into nature, and nature "announces" (reveals its features, becomes transparent) itself to the inquiring mind. And to learn is to change. Consciousness extrudes into nature via technology and because of inevitable feedback, thereby changes itself. And as the body is part of nature, consciousness can extrude into its own embodiment. How we understand our own body opens up and "announces" itself via technology and is changed thereby.
Technology Changes Reality’s Obduracies and Affordances
Heidegger’s language here is similar to our own. Remember what I wrote a few posts back. The brainworld knows reality from encountering both reality’s obduracies and its affordances – that is, what reality will not let us do (stick our finger through the table top) and what it does allow us to do (stick our finger into a glass of water). What Heidegger means by "announce" is that reality affords us possibilities – in the above case, hammer-ability. The world is no longer just there, it becomes a field of possibilities. So the central point to be taken here is that techniques are adaptations to the obdurate-affordant nature of reality, while technologies actually change the obduracies and affordances in our comprehension of reality. No technique will allow me to put my finger through the table top, but I can put a hole in the tabletop using a drill and then stick my finger through the hole. Technology changes the force and nature of obduracy and at the same time opens up possible affordances. And here we begin to glimpse both the boon and the danger of technologies – an inevitable multiple value (Don Ihde would say, "multistability") attends technologies, and has done since the first hominid picked up his or her first rock and used it as a hammer or ax or weapon. The self-same rock can be used to open a cocoanut, chop a tree, or kill an enemy – the multiple values being already partially determined by the nature of the technology. The same spear can facilitate us in hunting or murdering. The coal-fired power plant can generate electricity to light our homes while polluting the atmosphere we breath.
Moreover – and this is the BIG, BIG, REALLY BIG point – there are always unintended consequences hidden within these multiple values – to how technologies change obduracies and affordances -- and these consequences may be good or bad, and usually both, depending upon how they are deployed. Who knows what the intention was of the first being, Henrietta Hominid, to pick up and retain a sharp rock to do stuff later on. Maybe she intended to take it home and open those pesky elk bones to get at the marrow, but when she got home she caught her husband Herman Hominid in the mammoth skins with another woman and she used the new tool to cleave Herman’s skull, a use she never intended. Albert Hoffman had no idea while fiddling around with possible antibiotics that the new drug he discovered, LSD-25, would afford people with life-altering, spiritual insights and experiences – become what he would later call a "medicine of the soul." Nor did the Wright brothers anticipate that their flying machine would one day morph into huge passenger jets capable of whisking people around the world in hours, and of being used as missiles by religious fanatics to destroy tall buildings.
TECHNOLOGY AND TRANSFORMATION
What most of us seem to mean by "technology" are somatic activities that result in more or less enduring transformations of the physical world we live in. We are less likely to realize that technological transformations of the world are generally accompanied by changes in our brainworld. Indeed, some technologies are created and used in our own and other cultures precisely to change the state of our brainworld. To give an example, Tibetan Buddhist practitioners will execute meticulous paintings intended to aid in perfecting internal visualizations and meditations. The paintings are not strictly necessary for the visualization practices, but are useful as an intermediary step in the internalization of complex eidetic images. Thus, at the same time, the painting is an artifact – a tool – used to penetrate into the deep unconscious and to access the domain of arcane knowledge.
The Problem of the "Practical"
The distinctions we take so for granted between our being and the world, between the mental and the physical, and between the supernatural (mystical) and empirical are not so clear cut, if indeed they are made at all, in most traditional and non-western societies. Much technology in other societies is designed to access and control the hidden cosmic forces in the world, or the hidden aspects of one’s being, while other technologies are made for what we perceive through our Euro-american-aussie materialist eyes as strictly practical ends.
A classical example of this blending of intents is Trobriand Island canoe-building. The Trobrianders are a sea-going society living in Melanesia who make a living in part by fishing, and who take part in exchange expeditions (called kula) to neighboring islands. These expeditions involve lengthy and dangerous deep-blue sea voyages. The canoes used by these people for fishing are of two types: One called kewo'u is owned by an individual, is relatively simple in construction and is used for local personal needs. There are no ritual or magical ingredients to the manufacture of these canoes. Another called kalipoulo is owned by a headman of a team of fishermen and is more complex and seaworthy in construction. There is some ritual and magic involved in the manufacture of these canoes. And there is a third type of canoe called a masawa that is used exclusively for sea-going expeditions. The masawa is carefully manufactured and the ritual-magical preparations involved in the construction are elaborate. It is owned by a large social organization and there is a specialist who supervises all aspects, ritual-magical and technical, in its construction.
It is interesting that no clear distinction is made by the natives between "practical" labor and "impractical" ritual-magic during construction of these huge boats. Rather, both are requisite to the construction of a safe and seaworthy canoe and subsequently to a successful expedition. The canoe must not only be built, but it must be protected from the dangers it will confront on the voyage, as well as malevolent social influences upon and potential failure of exchange transactions. It is significant that the simplest canoe, and the one in which people confront the least risk, has no ritual-magical component to its construction. The larger vessel in which more serious fishing is carried out does require some ritual-magical protection. But it is the sea-going canoes that pose the greatest risk to life and reputation that are the subject of the most severe ritual-magical sanctions.
EMPOWERMENT AND DISEMPOWERMENT THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
A crucial point made by Don Ihde in his book, Existential Technics, is that it is not possible to reorganize our world without transforming our own being in the process. This is because we interpret ourselves in our interactions with the world. Remember a few posts back I said that a principal role of behavior is the control of perception so that the desired sensory experience actually happens? That is why an important dimension of self-interpretation is the sense of power, or mastery, that we develop by way of the practice of matching sensorial events against anticipated outcomes of our actions. Think about how you would manage to have that first coffee/tea experience in the morning without the intervening technology. It would be virtually impossible, right? No cup, no grinder, no kettle, no espresso machine, no spoon, no bottle of milk, no package/pot of sugar, no coffee or tea bags. All those things integrated into a single set of procedures to bring about that first, heavenly sip of hot beverage!
[Pause while your erstwhile blogger recharges his cup with another measure of brew...]
And, of course, insofar as we interact with the world through the medium of technology, and insofar as we dwell within the context of an environment that has been transformed by technology, we thereby technologize ourselves. Both the developmental and the transcendental repercussions of technological adaptations are evident enough in the ethnographic literature of preindustrial peoples. Hunter-gatherers are quite different in personality type and social identity than horticultural peoples. They view themselves differently, organize their societies differently, view the cosmos differently. So too are pastoral peoples distinct. The technological stance toward their environment taken by a people will influence the way they interpret both themselves as agents in the world and events in which they become involved in the world. The overwhelming sense one gets from reading ethnographies is that technology is largely formative, influential and empowering in the experience of traditional peoples. The canoe building technology of the Trobrianders gives them a sense of mastery over the complex and unpredictable forces of the open sea so as to assure a successful expedition.
Considering our own Euro-american-aussie cultural tradition, the dual aspects (development and transcendence) of technological intervention in the world have become very dramatic during the past couple of centuries, what with the industrial revolution and its myriad consequences. Indeed, so prevalent has technology become in our lives that most of us live within a thoroughly technologically mediated reality, and by way of feedback into our brainworld, within a technological society and technologically impacted conception of self.
Yet technology is not as empowering for us as it has been for preindustrial peoples. In fact it is equally disempowering for the hairless ape on the street, and this influence of modern technology upon our society and consciousness has raised alarm in various circles for decades. Sociologist Jacques Ellul (see his 1980 book) has taught that the modern condition is not merely one of mind relating to machine, but rather hairless apes developing within a technological world that’s already in place. Much of a person’s enculturation centers upon values and skills requisite to serving a highly technologized economic and political society that has come to evaluate effort solely upon the criteria of efficiency and material practicality. Education for "technological man" is oriented towards producing technicians who are becoming ever more educated and specialized in their occupations. Such individuals come to perceive themselves as competent only within the narrow confines of their occupations, but as disenfranchised, ignorant, alienated and helpless within the greater sphere of their social and economic lives. Technicians come to rely upon other technicians whose proficiencies are outside the limited purview of their own specialties to carry out the technologically loaded interactions requisite to their life styles. The otherwise proficient factory worker in her home relies on electricians, plumbers, carpenters, construction workers, TV repair people, appliance repair people, cable TV people, barbers, auto mechanics, physicians, dentists, child psychologists, marriage councilors, on and on. This dependence upon technical expertise pervades every realm of experience in our modern life. In a somewhat cynical vein, we are born by the grace of obstetrical expertise and die in the hands of palliative care nurses and mortuary science practitioners, and in the interim we are conditioned to adapt to a pervasive technological world:
"This influence is a lot greater than that of school or work. The technological system contains its own agents of adjustment. Advertising, mass media entertainment, political propaganda, human [resources] and public relations -- all these things, with superficial divergences, have one single function: to adapt man to technology; to furnish him with psychological satisfactions, motivations that will allow him to live and work efficiently in this universe. The entire mental panorama in which man is situated is produced by technicians and shapes man to a technological universe, the only one reflected toward him by anything represented to him. Not only does he live spontaneously in the technological environment, but advertising and entertainment offer the image, the reflection, the hypostasis of that environment." (Ellul 1980: 213)
Accepting Ellul's depiction of the essentially disempowering effects of technological society, George Grant – perhaps Canada’s greatest 20th century philosopher -- carried the alarm further with specific reference to the English-speaking social world:
"For those who stay within the central stream of our society and are therefore dominant in its institutions, the effect of nihilism is the narrowing to an unmitigated reliance on technique. Nietzsche's equivocation about the relation between the highest will to power and the will to technology has never been a part of the English speaking tradition. With us the identity was securely thought from the very beginning of our modernity. Therefore as our liberal horizons fade in the winter of nihilism, and as the dominating amongst us see themselves within no horizon except their own creating of the world, the pure will to technology (whether personal or public) more and more gives sole content to that creating. In the official intellectual community this process has been called "the end of ideology." What that phrase flatteringly covers is the closing down of willing to all content except the desire to make the future by mastery, and the closing down of all thinking which transcends calculation. Within the practical liberalism of our past, techniques could be set within some context other than themselves -- even if that context was shallow. We now move towards the position where technological progress becomes itself the sole context within which all that is other to it must attempt to be present.
"We live then in the most realized technological society which has yet been; one which is, moreover, the chief imperial centre from which technique is spread around the world. It might seem then that because we are destined so to be, we might also be the people best able to comprehend what it is to be so. Because we are first and most fully there, the need might seem to press upon us to try to know where we are in this new found land which is so obviously a "terra incognita." Yet the very substance of our existing which has made us the leaders in technique, stands as a barrier to any thinking which might be able to comprehend technique from beyond its own dynamism. "(Grant 1969: 40)
Grant argues that the influence of modern technology upon the very consciousness and culture that produced it is transformative. Modern technological society is antithetical to the values that produced the original social consciousness requisite to both modern science and English justice and democracy possible. In particular it is the sense of justice that has marked English-speaking culture for centuries that is in jeopardy from the effects of technological society. The same system of values produced both this sense of justice (essentially the attitude that human rights trump individual, cultural, or ideological points of view) and the free and individuated scientific intellect. Yet the modern byproducts of science, such as a mechanistic conception of the world and of ourselves, heavily technologized life-styles, automated production processes, vast depersonalized data bases and bureaucratized social institutions, produce unintended changes in that system of values in service of those byproducts and against our traditional sense of equality, individuation, fairness and justice (a great read here is also Neil Postman’s book, Technopoly).
The Potentially Improving Influence of Awareness
As both Ellul and Grant have noted, these unintended consequences of the process of technologizing cultures only operate in a detrimental way so long as they remain unconscious to participants. The values and other elements of social consciousness at risk are so basic that they are largely taken for granted. They are thus vulnerable to change without our being aware that they are changing. Indeed, we may well become aware of these components only when they have eroded away beyond recovery. More heinous still is the fact that corporations, always on the lookout for profitable economic opportunities and ventures, will pounce upon any catastrophic event where they can force policy changes and capitalistic development before people, at first deep in shock, can rally to block corporate efforts (I strongly suggest you read the 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise in Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Kline). I will return to the dark underbelly of capitalism, and the erroneous claim by Chicago school economists like Milton Friedman that capitalism is the best and most advanced economic system, in a later post.
However, raising the consciousness of these transcendental consequences may to some extent ameliorate their destructive influences upon our cultural values. Of course awareness of the consequences will not stop the culture change, nor will it cause us to technologically regress. But awareness may allow facilitation of an alternative organization of social consciousness and social relations so as to retain both the unique level of individuation upon which optimal science depends and the realization of freedom and empowerment upon which justice and true democracy depend. What is necessary in part to increase this self-awareness is an educational curriculum geared as much to the development of awareness of fundamental values as it is to the inculcation of technological/bureaucratic skills. At the core of this curriculum should be training in self-awareness and the empowering effects of an active exploration of our own way of life. It takes but a slight elevation of awareness to see that there are many, and perhaps better ways to evaluate events and projects than whether or not they are efficient, lucrative to a handful of already wealthy people, and merely practical.
TECHNO-CONSCIOUSNESS AND TECHNOCRATIC SOCIETY
The real problem is, however, that our childhood brainworld developed within the context of a technocratic society already in place, so a lot of what is going on around us is either taken for granted or makes sense to us in a sort of knee-jerk way. Elevating consciousness above the hum-drum everyday busy-busy life style with it’s attendant technocratic values of productivity, efficiency, practicality and commerce is not easy. We buy a cell phone today and find that next year when we go to get a part for it, that it has been long outdated and obsolete – and we accept this constant change as "inevitable progress," rather than rampant commercialism. This is one reason why in order to become a mature contemplative one needs to go on a long retreat at least once a year in order to really chill out and work on increasing one’s awareness. I have known many serious meditators that find that after meditating for just a while, there is a vast list of things and jobs they won’t consider doing anymore because they become obviously detrimental and unwholesome relative to their heightened self-awareness.
Technocracy is only possible when most everybody in society shares a kind of techno-consciousness. Progress is seen as both inevitable and a boon. People feel they have to have the latest "time-saving" devices (curious that so-called "primitive" hunting and gathering societies work approximately 4 hours a day to make a living, compared with our 8+ hours a day on the job), the next "up-grade" in information technologies (my PC only has a 1.5 gig processor – "so not fast enough!", the next iPod because it holds 7,500 songs instead of the old one that only held 3,000 songs, the next cell phone because it not only lets you call people, but you can text message, take photos, record addresses and lists, record appointments, trim your nose hairs, on and on. Genetically modified foods are one of the latest "boons" to be considered progressive and inevitable, and despite negative reactions of people all over the world to GM foods, they have been approved by governments. Now, as we speak, the Beyer company has been forced to acknowledge that their GM rice, recently approved, has gone wild and contaminated the world’s rice supply – and of course, they will fight any liability whatever for damages caused by the unintended consequences of their actions. But hey, that’s just one of the costs of progress, right?
Efficiency becomes the preeminent criterion of evaluation. Our new car is better than our old car cause it is more fuel efficient, it is easier to drive, it comes equipped with all the new gadgets, including a GPS that talks to you incessantly, and a remote starter so you don’t have to sit in a cold car in the morning. I evaluate myself by how competent I am in my job – I may suck as a parent but I am one damn fine mechanic (accountant, teacher, cop, CEO, musician, etc.). This new policy of ours may not make you as happy with us, but it is more streamlined. Oh, and we can make more widgets using less people. We can make these widgets more cost effective by installing robots and laying off 400 workers – robots also do not need lunch breaks, or health and retirement benefits. We can sell these widgets far cheaper if we have them made in Sweatshopistan than here in Detroit, and thereby pay higher dividends to our shareholders. I’m not kidding here, if you buy a shirt or shorts at Walmart, you may not be aware that they were made by young girls in Bangladesh forced by their families and the company to work 12 or more hours a day, paid less than 20 cents an hour, with no benefits, no health care, no maternity leave, escorted to the bathroom, and kicked out for any complaining whatsoever.
If you are old enough to do so, can you remember back when all you had to do to vote was show up at the voting station and make marks with a pencil on your ballot and then slip the paper in the top of the ballot box? But hay, this is just too inefficient for words. Then came the voting machines, and of course once one accepts voting machines, there are new and better and more efficient voting machines with every passing year, and somehow over a few years time, the voting process became co-opted by voting technologies with towns and cities forced to apply for loans and grants to pay corporations for the latest voting widgets. And now, you’re not even sure the machines aren’t being rigged. Or they malfunction and of course there is no paper trail to rely on for a recount. Ask yourself then, did you ever have a choice in the matter of new, and still newer voting technologies and all of the complexity and controversy and screw-ups that followed? Would you like to go back to the ballots and ballot boxes and real people counting and recounting the ballots? What is stopping you from doing that? Well, hey, it is so inefficient, right? And there are all those shiny new, ever more efficient machines...
And in technocracy, technology is all-pervasive. Here is an excellent meditation for the budding mature contemplative. Note every activity you do from waking in the morning to falling asleep at night, and note the technologies that mediate each and every experience. I have had students do this and it can be a profoundly life-altering exercise. I wake in a bed with a mattress and pillows and cotton sheets and a wool blanket, clothed in a tee shirt and shorts. I have never in my 70 years slept naked on the ground without at least a sleeping bag and tent and ground cloth and pillow. In other words, I have never even slept at night without technology augmenting my experience. I get out of bed and slip my feed into sandals (slippers, clogs, ?) and head for the kitchen where I make coffee using a gas stove, tea kettle, filtering system, coffee grounds, and cup. I take the coffee to the bathroom where I sit on a ceramic toilet and sip coffee and defecate (I have rarely ever defecated without a toilet or some equivalent contrivance that makes the experience more comfortable, and makes disposal of waste more efficient). And so forth... Carefully listing each activity throughout the day. Then make another list of each and every artifact involved in mediating my experiences during the day, beginning and ending perhaps with the mattress, etc. With this list one can then do things like check off each artifact that you feel you could manufacture yourself. Add up the different specialized skills necessary for the manufacture of all the artifacts you use. Like, when you take that daily aerobic walk – perhaps you are accompanied by walking shoes, sweats, walking shirt, walking cap, walking stick, pedometer, belly pack with perhaps a plastic water bottle, and maybe your head is plugged in to your iPod. You walk along a concrete sidewalk or forest path. You stop for that rewarding latte at the local Starbucks, served in a disposable cup. How many of these artifacts could you make from scratch if you had to? What many people find is that virtually their entire day is mediated by technologies -- hundreds, maybe thousands of technologies. One comes to understand that having a moment of consciousness unmediated by technology is rare in the daily course of events. And all these artifacts are made by people, some of them from other countries and cultures all over the planet.
You are able in this way to appreciate how your brainworld and your life is embroiled in techno-consciousness. Perhaps you may carry the reflections on to ponder how your life came to be that way. If you are like me, we were both born into it, raised in it, taught what we need to know to survive and even flourish in it. But we never really consciously chose to be so pervaded by technology. And if we finally decide to opt out of it entirely, we may find it very hard to accomplish. Some do, but not many. The more common and easier route perhaps is the elevation of awareness of the extent we are trapped into techno-consciousness and consumerism. I personally know family and friends who opt out to the extent that they grow much of their food and buy wherever possible used clothing, furniture, cars, so forth. They haunt the Goodwill, eBay and Graig’s List. Again I say, it takes very little increase in awareness to effect dramatic changes in one’s perceptions, understanding to alter one’s techno-consciousness and relationship with the all pervasive technocracy.
BRINGING IT ALL BACK TOGETHER
Ok now, this post has been dense, even for me. So let’s draw the elements of our argument together again and integrate technology into it so we can share the big picture. We have seen that consciousness and experience are what the brainworld does to construct an internal world for itself. It makes sure that this internal world is an accurate picture of reality by engaging with the obdurate and affordant aspects of reality. It presents reality as meaningful, trued-up models experienced within a vast field of sensorial pixels – that radiant sphere of pixilated and meaningful forms and relations hovering on top of our shoulders. We have seen that separating that sphere of consciousness from physical reality is wrongheaded, that mind-body dualistic views distort the real process by which the brainworld adapts to the real world. And we have seen that part of that process of adaptation is the learning of techniques for deriving desired experiences by manipulating the real world through tried and true actions. Some techniques result in transforming the physical world into artifacts that in turn are used to mediate in the interaction between brainworld and reality. But during this process, the internal models of reality that make up the brainworld are themselves altered because of feedback from reality – feedback about changes in obduracies and affordances that result in changes in our internal models of self and world.
We will come to see in future posts that this process by which technologically mediated changes in reality result in changes in our brainworld will contribute, both to the exacerbation of The Crisis, and to possible avenues for negotiating and solving The Crisis. We will get to that later on when we discuss the evolution of the cyborg, and the pivotal importance of the permanent presence of hairless apes in space.
Davis_Floyd, Robbie E., 1992. Birth As an American Rite of Passage. Berkeley: University of California Press. [How technocratic society through the birthing industry to reflect technocratic values.]
Ellul, J., 1980. The Technological System. New York: Continuum. [A major sociological study of technological hairless apes.]
Grant, George, 1969. Technology and Empire. Toronto, Canada: House of Anansi.
Grant, George, 1980. English-Speaking Justice. Toronto: Anansi.
Heidegger, Martin, 1962. Being and Time. New York: Harper and Row.
Heidegger, Martin, 1977. "The Question Concerning Technology." in Basic Writings (trans. by D. Krell). New York: Harper and Row; or in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. New York: Harper and Row.
Ihde, Don, 1990. Technology and the Lifeworld. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Ihde's book is the best single source on the phenomenology of technology ever written.]
Kline, Naomi, 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books. [A horrific picture of how corporations exploit the suffering of people during social crises and natural disasters to force through economic policies and developments that profit the corporations.]
Malinowski, B., 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: Dutton. [In case you want to read more about the Trobriand Islanders.]
Postman, Neil, 1993. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. NY: Random House.
Rothenberg, David, 1993. Hand's End: Technology and the Limits of Nature. Berkeley, University of California Press. [Traces the history and prehistory of technology.]