Questioning Technology

Have We Reached a Tipping Point?

I would like to begin by explaining what this article is not about. This is not a call to storm the hospitals and switch off people’s life support systems, burn down pharmacies, or dismantle all wheelchairs. While this article is part of a growing call to view technology’s ubiquitous presence with a much more critical eye, it does not mean we’re arguing for rounding up people at gun point and forcing them to hand over their smart phones; nor are we on a crusade to deny people access to hormone therapies, [modern] abortions or other tech advances used to sustain and improve quality of life.

Critiques of industrialization and dehumanizing technology have existed since the time of the Luddites and cover a wide spectrum of opinion. The primitivist critique, the favorite whipping boy of the radical left, represents just one of the last stops on a train of thought that has a fair number of stations, yet the most extreme end of the technology-critical spectrum receives the lion’s share of attention. Why? Well, because, let’s face it – the stereotype of suburban white guys running off into the woods while denouncing city dwellers often provokes an understandable visceral reaction. The way the conversation is often polarized of course means more internet traffic as both trolls and those with legitimate concerns converge on websites to denounce the privileged anti-civ heretics.

Criticism of technophilia should not de facto earn one a dirty identity politics label, however, in the “radical community,” it usual does. Technophiles would have us believe that we’re either “all in,” on the side of “progress,” or we’re with the primitivist terrorists who are against chemotherapy, HIV medications and water purification systems. Regardless of the hysteria and badmouthing that flows from both camps, pragmatic people can realistically consider the “facts on the ground” situation we are facing concerning our relationship to technology while still maintaining a healthy skepticism of technology’s increasing intrusions into our lives.

The fact of the matter, and one that technophiles will usually do their best to deny or obfuscate, is that technology-critical discourse is becoming more and more mainstream as the dangers of unchecked tech growth become increasingly apparent. One of the most interesting examples of this stems from an unlikely source: revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding the NSA’s adventures in Germany. German society, known for being on the cutting edge of technological “progress,” has been rocked by revelations of the U.S. government using sophisticated means to spy on high ranking officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel. The situation was further exacerbated by the deployment of double agents to gather intelligence on Germany’s investigation into the NSA spying. States are usually prone to increasing their technological abilities, yet the specter of the NSA and the U.S. quest for full spectrum dominance has spooked the spooks into seriously considering trading in their laptops for old-school typewriters.

Rory Corman, author of ‘Spying on the World’ had this to say to Newsweek: “The idea that Germany may revert to typewriters is an interesting one. They would not be alone in doing so…Russia reportedly reverted to using typewriters last year in the aftermath of the NSA revelations.”

The NSA scandal has disturbed many of us, yet how many people have reverted to less advanced technology or dramatically cut down on their use of technology as a counter-measure? Maybe more than we realize! Recognizing the contradictions inherent within technology used for the sake of convenience seems to have initiated a small but important course correction for Russia and possibly for Germany. Now if only they would get rid of their nuclear weapons maybe we would be getting somewhere. Still, if ruthless and bloodthirsty states are able to question their use of technology and how it relates to their own self-interest, the rest of us can too.

Also interesting has been the reaction of the internet to a recent revelation that realistic, child-like robots might soon become available for pedophiles to enjoy as sex toys. According to a recent article these disgusting inventions are “inevitable”.

Technophile Ben Way, the author of a book I won’t bother to plug here, says these fuck toys for pedophiles are actually a good thing if we can just get over our pesky gut reactions and social mores.

“Will child sex bots lead to some people acting out their dark and disgusting desires on real children?” he asks. “Yes, but I suspect having child sex bots will significantly reduce the number of people overall who abuse children. As repugnant as it may seem society should support this technology and do proper research into its effects before making a snap decision based on social norms.”

“I suspect” this will work out, he says. And if he and the others pushing for these pre-pubescent sex-bots are wrong and end up unleashing some new horror upon society? Well, it will be yet another in a long string of “oops” moments, but their hearts were in the right place so all will be forgiven.

Wired magazine, a place where you would be hard pressed to find any serious criticism of technophilia, recently published a fascinating article entitled ‘The Moral Hazards and Legal Conundrums of Our Robot-Filled Future’. In this article the terrifying prospect of these child sex-bots were, among other things, offered up as proof of an impending moral crisis. Well, I must say this article was definitely a pleasant surprise, as were the comments which displayed a significant amount of misgivings about the robot-filled future.

Some are in fact doing more than talking about these issues on the internet, though it remains to be seen if their form of impromptu direct action against invasive, privacy destroying technology will catch on. The “neo-Luddites” referred to by Forbes magazine in their article entitled, ‘The Violent Opt-out: The Neo-Luddites Attacking Drones And Google Glass,’ have resorted to physical attacks on the latest manifestations of invasive tech. These attacks on drones and Google Glass wearers might just be a flash in the pan occurrence, or they may signal the fact that people are reaching the threshold of what they will tolerate (this is especially relevant considering the fact that Google Glass can be hacked to function using a person’s brainwaves). Of course the Forbes article basically derides these people as lunatics, but the underlying message of budding resistance nevertheless shines through.

More people are waking up to the realization that something is not quite right with regards to the furious pace of technological “progress,” and that this tsunami of new capabilities is in fact the proverbial double edged sword. Others who have been following this issue more closely are realizing that instead of wielding technology to our benefit, we have become slaves to it, enthralled and trapped within a high tech industrial system that creates problems and then ironically turns around and sells us high-tech solutions. Technologies that are advertised to us as fun, problem-solving conveniences are easily turned into control and surveillance mechanisms – as was the intent all along. Nothing is for free, and these shiny baubles and quick fixes are not merely provided to us for our enjoyment and for our own personal growth and happiness. Power systems thrive on control, and today much of that control is consolidated through our consensual use of technology. This is the reality more and more people are awakening too and it serves as a glimmer of hope for our future.

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