The (Perceived) Dangers of Technology

I place part of the title under erasure, in parenthesis, side thesis, side idea, because it’s idiotic to either view all technology as dangerous or to turn a blind eye (such a wonderfully odd phrase) to the dangerous potential within technology.

Old hat: Einstein described a cathedral of light and time, a new era of union with and loving curiosity toward the natural world—and Oppenheimer used this to steal the Obliterating Fire from God. And then again we turned nuclear physics into a source of clean(er) power, far cleaner than coal and oil, far safer. (Though still unsafe—the artists Cornelia Hesse-Honegger lushly documents the “morphologically disturbed” insects of Chernobyl and other sites of nuke-fail.)

Something new: We have so many technologies, we are unable to see Technology, techne—”tool,” the extension of the human into the inhuman world, the stick the chimp uses to reach farther.

Jane S. Moss, Lincoln Center’s vice president for programming, from the New York Times:

“We actually have been entering what I consider an era of distraction,” she said. “People are searching for greater meaning that all the text messages in the world can’t provide.” At a concert, she added, “you’re outside the concerns of your own ego, and there’s some larger universe inside yourself where you enter.”

I probably agree with her, in her deeper meaning; I get her point. But attacking the outward signs of modernity (text messages, Twitter) wastes energy and doesn’t get to the essential psychic split: If we are no longer keyed into some human or spiritual dimension in our lives, it’s not the fault of a particular technology, nor a particular regime of signs (advertising, corrupt modern politics, the apathetic ideal of “cool”-ness in modern culture, abstract poetry, sexting), but from a totality of technologization, medialization, and simulation.

Moss, like many smart people who don’t think a lot about the larger picture of how technology is changing us, perhaps at the level of consciousness, picks one facet of modern techne—texting—as her scapegoat. It’s not that simple.

People texting less and going to yoga more would not, fundamentally, change the modern psyche. In fact, to think so in writing looks odd; a sort of “of course not!” gear kicks in; I laugh, picturing a pack of downward-dogging moderns, still neurasthenic, still anxious about their connectivity to a larger, invisible world; I think of a Mel Brooks-esque Postmodern sophist demanding an end to texting! The danger of a generation! Makes you crazy! (Like weed, in the 60s, or masturbation, in the Victorian period…)

No, the Lincoln Center’s festival of spirituality, a diminished focus on any particular hyperconnective medium, and a huge increase in enrollment in local bikram yoga dojos will not combine to change us. We have been changed by history, by forces far greater than a single techne. (To give a short list of those forces: dialect materialism, Darwinism, and psychoanalysis and the study of the unconscious.)

For better or for worse, technology is connecting to the various iterations of itself—and to us—faster and more deeply with each year. Soon we will all carry computer–phone–media player–dictionary–remote control–game system–television–bank card devices, and we will even begin to see an augmented, techne-overcoded, meta-tagged version of the world.

Texting, in comparison, is oddly old-school, like smoke signaling a buddy on a distant hill top.

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