Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is Technological Self-Restriction a Possibility?

The short film we watched in class about ordering Pizza underlined many current and past apprehensions about the overspreading of information. Today, many technological advancements which are positively associated with convenience and heightened efficiency (like a Universal ID card) are also the kinds of developments that threaten personal security and identity. Just as seen in the film, the unlimited access to information by corporations and other public entities highly reduces an individual’s freedom. Yet this issue applies to a much broader concern about technology which I think is much more fundamental to the discussion – that technology grows under an unrestricted evolution - one which is driven by economic selection rather than natural selection. With continued progress in weaponry, genetic cloning, etc. one can easily recognize how technological processes are often completely unhindered, where the basic goal appears to revolve around asserting the limitless abilities of humans (rather than self-restricting based on ramifications.)

As companies pitilessly attempt to gain access to our every consumerist desire (through keywords in GMail for example,) one can easily see how the spread of information might be just as much at the mercy of an economic selection, free from any moral constraint. If we consider the government’s persistent need to acquire information about its citizens as a matter of “national security” in a world “plagued by terrorism,” coupled with the constant spread of information on the internet, we might wonder, “What will stop us from arriving at a world like that in the Pizza delivery film?”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back and Forth on Power

Horkheimer and Adorno’s piece immediately appealed to my youthful, rebellious inclinations to reprimand “the system.” The notion of growing uniformity, brought on by this techonological, consumerist age is especially tempting when one considers the increasing presence of cookie-cutter residential housing projects or suburbs, every building looking the same, with such a low priority on craft, all driven by power, money, and a desire for efficiency. I’ve been through all that before when studying Foucault.
Yet their mention of the change from telephone to radio as being indicative of our inability to be liberal or the subject anymore, but instead only receivers of external lectures and self-interest or power-interest ideals made me wonder. Why must this model of culture be on a chronological continuum? Is it possible to use technology and heightened modes of communication (like video chat) to reverse this regressive process of the human being and actually spur a consciousness enlightenment? – Where outlets for communcation are so free, accessible, etc. that special interest groups and the political underground in a free-trade system of ideas and self-expression have a heightened voice free from advertisers, corporations, and corrupt powers? Where there is almost a rebirth of art and craft that is NOT driven by money and advertisements, but by a genuine interest in shifting our values once we have realized just how much of our daily lives are affected (and controlled) by corporations?
Yet one might in the end chillingly add that once we have reached this point of “being free” to communicate and express ourselves free from commercial strongholds, our actions and choices (either out of rebellion or simple everyday desire) will unwittingly be serving this intangible power structure that thrives and has been birthed from our own culture (consumerism, etc.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Platonic Response to "The Veldt"

While reading “The Veldt” I immediately adopted a Platonic perspective on the society portrayed by Bradbury. Every machine, every visit to the nursery, every detail about the children, seemed to emphasize Platonic concerns about how products of human ingenuity unwittingly influence our own realities and our own development (often negatively.) And although this fictional scenario might seem absurd or far-fetched to some, I think there are many parallels to be drawn to both our present situation, and the potential that looms in the depths of our highly virtual and technological era.
The most obvious and striking influence of Bradbury’s ‘machine’ world is its desire to comfort and numb its members into a state where there is absolutely no need for mental or physical self-sufficiency. This dependency on machines becomes most significant in places like the nursery, where fundamental brain developments seem to be inhibited (the children are immediately entertained by the images and smells in the nursery that they do not wish or conceive of anything outside that room.) Instead of an imagination growing around the sensory world and subsequently departing from it through the mind, the nursery provides such a comprehensive and potent alternate reality that the children feel no need to leave their surroundings (neither physically nor psychologically.) Obviously this idea of a technological reality is applicable to our studies of fictional and cyber realities, but most importantly I think it subtly conveys where our technology is taking us – Mr. Hadley was so tempted by the new technology, convinced that it would provide his family the “best” life, that he failed to recognize the numbing effect on creativity, imagination, etc.: “I don’t want
to do anything but look and listen and smell…”
Plato would not only say that this kind of technology encourages an indulgence in unnecessary pleasures
(and therefore brings us further away from true happiness,) but he would also argue that our faith in and support of technological advance above all else as an indication of our progression is what is most dangerous – not only does it create worlds that allow us to escape every moral framework, but by satisfying every unnecesary desire (to be comforted, massaged, etc.) it can also lead us further away from abstract non-material reality that should provide the basis for that framework.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007