Don't Sell Me Your Dream: Far from Liberating Us, Technology Isolates Us and Makes Us Stupid. I Want No Part of Your Sterile, Bloodless Brave New World, Writes Tom Hodgkinson
Hodgkinson, Tom, New Statesman (1996)
Ever since Hobbes, man has been using his ingenuity and energy in an attempt to create a technological Utopia. Perpetually dissatisfied with the present, we have invented spinning jennies, steam power, canals, railways, motor cars, flying machines, the wireless, television, computers, mobile telephones. We have been taught in schools since the late 18th century, and by the culture at large, to revere technology and to place faith in it as a liberator. Soon, soon, it seems to say, soon you will be free.
I have a different view. I hold in supreme contempt 90 per cent of modern technology. The whole sorry shebang is actually a costly distraction, which isolates us, makes us stupid and is never going to free us.
Take that digital manacle, the BlackBerry. My first objection to this bleeping distraction is its name. To me, the blackberry is the fruit of the bramble, best picked in September and made into a crumble. It is not a portable telephone and emailing device. It is a strange fact, by the way, that new technology loves to appropriate words from nature. Orange, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, Safari and O2: all companies or products that in fact separate us from messy nature.
But back to the infernal BlackBerry. You are with a friend and you notice that her attention starts wandering. She is writing an email! Surely that is just plain rude. It is also a clever way for your employer to be able to call on you at all times.
Far from making good on its promise to release information to the people, technology makes us into stupid slaves with the concentration span of a two-year-old. No longer can we read drama or poetry; information has to be condensed into bite-sized PowerPoint chunks. Instead of bicycling to the library and getting down three books to help us in our research, we remain in our chairs and lazily consult that dubious, low-quality oracle, Wikipedia, which ensures that not only does the whole world get the same answer, but also that it is a very poor one.
It is also important to remember that technology is not altruistic. Facebook and MySpace are ad sales scams. They get free content and demographic data from their members, then sell it to advertisers. And technology is not neutral: it is one manifestation of a certain sort of techno-utopian world-view, which Aldous Huxley, writing The Perennial Philosophy (1946), described as follows:
Salvation is regarded as a deliverance ... out of the miseries and evils associated with bad material conditions into another set of future material conditions so much better than the present that ... they will cause everybody to be perfectly happy, wise, virtuous. It is drummed into the popular mind, not by the representatives of state or church, but by those most influential of popular moralists and philosophers, the writers of advertising copy.
Technology, like most capitalist constructs, advertising included, appeals to our self-importance ("because you're worth it"). The mobile phone makes you feel like someone. Witness also the "i" that has been so successful for Apple. In a world where many of us have little control over our work lives, technology makes us feel important. And the BlackBerry promises to make us even more busy and important. A recent advertising campaign showed an unsmiling Teutonic supermodel under the legend "Superhuman". The ad implied that the purchase of a BlackBerry would transform a mere mortal into something altogether superior. …