40 CREDIT RESEARCH PROJECT (INTERMEDIA ART)
SUPERVISORS: JOHN BEAGLES AND DR. ANGELA McCLANAHAN
IS THE EVOLUTION OF THE TECHNIUM CHANGING US FOR BETTER OR WORSE?
In Kevin Kelly's 'What Technology Wants' (2010) he conceived the word technium to describe something expansive:
'the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. I call it the technium. The technium extends beyond shiny hardware to include culture, art, social institutions, and intellectual creations of all types. It includes intangibles like software, law, and philosophical concepts. And most important, it includes the generative impulses of our inventions to encourage more tool making, more technology invention, and more self-enhancing connections.'
(Kelly, 2010, Part 001: 31:36)
Kelly explains that the immaterial, language for example, can be viewed in a similar respect to tangible types of technology. But the technium is more than just physical technology; it is anything created by mankind which in turn stimulates further progress.
The first section of this essay is autobiographical and will explain my personal experience of the technium's force and the conclusions of others. I will discuss the effect that the technium has on Western society, focusing mainly on the effect of new technologies. I will then look at the effects on literacy, intelligence, attention span, contemplation and memory. Then I will move on to examine the consequences of our increasing reliance on technology.
I am what John Palfrey and Urs Gasser would call a 'Digital Native' (2008, p.1). Put simply, a digital native is an individual born after the year 1980 who has largely grown up within digital culture (the idea of the digital native is also similar to Alan Kirby's 'generation gap' (Kirby, 2006). Born in 1985, I certainly grew up during a period of rapid change which affects my day to day life in multiple ways.
I can map the impact of technological change via my record collection. At first I had analogue albums and cassettes, then digital compact disks replaced them. Now my superfluous CD collection is in my father's attic; I’ve transferred everything to my computer and mp3 player. This switch from analogue and ‘hard copies’ to digital and virtual has been replicated in other areas; in key parts of my life such as reading and photography, I have become a digital native, jettisoning physical objects for virtual bytes.
A modernist heritage, that sees technology as the promise of a brighter and more liberated future, is still with us. Western society especially seems far more obsessed than ever before with cutting-edge gadgets. For example, figure 1 shows thousands of people queuing overnight at Apple's Regent Street store in London for a new iPhone 4 (Beaumont, 2010).
Figure 1: Queue for iPhone 4, Regent Street, London.
There is certainly an unprecedented predilection for new technologies among Western society but I wonder though, if this technological progress really is a positive thing for humankind? It is this question I want to address in this paper.
1.1 CHANGING OUR MINDS
Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes about 'Liquid Modernity' (2000) and how we no longer live in a time where we are confined, we have a greater freedom of possibility. He uses the term 'instantaneity' (Bauman, 2010, p.118) to describe our need for immediacy, for everything to be much faster, smaller, more flexible and most importantly peripatetic. For Bauman, one of the key features of our age is that our perception of time and space has altered so dramatically. The internet, transport and various other technologies have globalised countries, commerce, communication, and even ourselves. Innovations in transport and technology have been so dramatic in fact, that banal experiences of today (satellite navigation, global air travel) would seem like science fiction to someone a hundred years ago.
Our state of being has changed substantially in recent years, we are able to achieve in a single day what may have taken several years to do a relatively short time ago. Even so, we show a disinclination to change the way we actually live our lives in an equally dramatic manner. We don't get the empowering feeling we should get when we have a productive day. Below is a quotation from 'The Shallows' by Nicholas Carr (2010). He describes the way in which he can feel his mind changing due to the current information age:
'Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone. Or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neutral circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going – so far as I can tell – but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think. I feel it most strongly when I'm reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article. My mind would get caught up in the twists of the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That's rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.'
(Carr, 2010, p.5)
These kind of fears regarding the impact of new technologies on our consciousness, our psyche, that Carr outlines are obviously complex and often generate contradictory responses from people as there are an abundance of groups, online and off, campaigning against the constant use of digital technologies. Possibly the most interesting one being 'Offlining' created by Mark DiMassimo & Eric Yaverbaum who were previously encouraging everyone to use technology whenever it was at all possible. They confess:
'We’ve devoted much of the last couple of decades to convincing you to log on, click here, call now, surf, search, pay bills in your underwear, trade from the beach, add “friends” to your digital network and, as AT&T once famously promised in their “You Will” campaign, tuck your children in from your mobile device.'
(DiMassimo & Yaverbaum, n.d).
After some time they both came to the realization that this attitude was flawed. They then decided to take serious action to right the wrongs they had encouraged. The pair established the 'Offlining' campaign to encourage internet and mobile phone users to log/switch off for a period of time. On September 18th 2010 they coined the tag line 'No Device Day' and promoted their campaign with phrases such as 'show the world your real face' (Offlining, n.d) used in posters and flyers (see figure 2).
Figure 2: One of Mark Dimassimo & Eric Yaverbaum's poster images from their Offlining campaign.
1.2 LANGUAGE (LITERACY OR LACK THEREOF)
I contemplated abstaining from digital technologies in order to write this essay. However, the more I considered it, the more hopeless a task it appeared to be. Core writing and researching activities, for instance, the necessity of having to write my essay using simply pen and paper would prove a substantial challenge. As a digital native I am completely and thoroughly entangled in and reliant on, the capabilities and possibilities offered to me by digital access to information and resources. This realization of my dependency made me wonder if digital forms such as Word, Google, Wikipedia etc. are having an adverse effect on not only my own ability to write and research independently of these forms, but having an detrimental affect on others' abilities too.
There are many writers who are similarly worried about the impact of these new technologies on our ability to read and write (Carr, 2010, Plato, 1956, Kelly, 2010, Brabazon, 2007, Palfrey, Gasser, 2008). Possibly the most famous critic of the impact of new technologies is Nicholas Carr (who I previously quoted). Carr’s most well-known and influential text on the subject is 'The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember' (2010). Although his argument regarding the damaging effect technology is having on our capacity to think and concentrate is quite contentious, he is not the first person to negatively chart the impact of new technologies. Socrates expresses similar fears when he condemns the invention of the alphabet by Theuth a famous old God:
'And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.'
(Plato, 1956, p.62)
From what Socrates speaks of here, it seems our current worries about our impending illiteracy have escalated from these ancient times. I wonder to what extent these anxieties are warranted. Writing is often thought of as a natural process but like most things, language evolved over time. There were a great many years where spoken language didn't exist, never mind written language. During the ancient history of humanity knowledge was passed on through actions. The formation of language increased convenience and also helped mankind progress by allowing stories to be passed on.
This evolution echos the development of most major changes in the way societies exist today. The formation of language and the appearance of the internet were similarly generated by an increased need for greater convenience and faster communication between people. The two human inventions are not as different as they perhaps seem.
Then writing – a natural progression from spoken language. Maybe so, but still nowhere near as natural to us as hunting and gathering and such activities. So why is it then that we have stopped using traditional methods of obtaining food and established contemporary methods like purchasing mass produced foodstuffs, but we find the possibility of written language, in the form that it is now, diminishing so impossible to comprehend? Perhaps the disappearance of written language, in books etc. is simply another instance of human evolution? Perhaps it is changing the way we think in a very positive sense. Is it not conceivable that we are in the transitional state where our brains are morphing into faster, more absorbent organs, able to filter through vast amounts of information and pinpoint the exact point of interest? Maybe we do not need to have the time to evaluate and process information any longer. Maybe the crowd-sourcing climate we are in today will develop further and make readily available, evaluated and processed valuable information. A computer (or mass of networked computers) takes all the information and does this for us, quickly, efficiently and inexpensively. So we may have neither desire or necessity to do it ourselves.
It seems inevitable that most of the world will change further into these traditionally illiterate but computer literate people at some point. Possibly the most potent example of the impact of technological change today is in China, where many of the youth population are forgetting the characters of the Chinese language. The apparent cause, and also the apparent solution, to this is the looking up of the characters online using software such as 'Pinyin'. This kind of dysgraphia1may not be a problem as these young Chinese people are still communicating intelligently and prolifically, but what they are losing instead is the ancient tradition and heritage. The Chinese youth are moving towards a more economical way of connecting with each other. This example perfectly expresses the paradoxical, ambivalent nature of the impact of new technologies.
1.3 INFORMATION OR INTELLIGENCE
Tara Brabazon, professor of Media Studies at the University of Brighton, is constantly lecturing her students (and others who read her writing) about the disadvantages of online research. In her book 'The University of Google: education in the (post) information age' (2007) she quotes David Loertscher:
'Search engines such as Google are so easy and immediate that many young people, faced with a research assignment, just 'google' their way through the internet rather than struggle through the hoops of a more traditional library environment.'
(Loertscher, 2003, p.14, quoted in Brabazon, 2007, p.7)
There has been a lot written (Brabazon, 2007, Carr, 2010, Greenfield, 2003, Mayer-Schonberger, V, 2009) that describes how the internet and other digital technologies are diminishing our intelligence. Many of the referenced writers (Greenfield etc.) have written about how superficial, ‘lite’ learning has replaced in depth, concentrated study as a consequence of easy, instant access to information. Just entering a few words pinpoints the exact area necessary to give the information requested, often ready analysed if required. What many of these authors highlight is how the acquisition of information (‘info bytes’) is confused with knowledge and comprehension of a subject.
I am inclined to disagree with all of these negative criticisms of digital technologies in relation to intelligence. From my perspective, the use of digital archives and information in research is not necessarily making us less knowledgeable. In fact it's conceivable that the opposite is true. Digital natives may, because of things like the web 2.0, have a broader, more comprehensive knowledge of subjects. After all, digital natives and the later 'digital settlers'2 (2008, p.4) are collectively curating the vast majority of the content that is put online for everyone with internet access to digest. The following words from Dr Aleks Krotoski taken from the BBC series 'The Virtual Revolution' (2010), delineate how information is propagated on the web:
'The idea is that instead of truth, knowledge and accuracy being agreed on by experts and handed down by an elite from above, it will slowly emerge from the masses and come up from below. But, by challenging centuries of scholarship this new form of people power has ignited a huge argument'
(BBC, 2010, Part 1: 09:45)
Information is everywhere. Never before have we had so much of it at our disposal so quickly and inexpensively. Take Wikipedia for instance, it is deplorable for any extensive research, however, it is wonderful if you require little more than a brief, undependable, grasp of a subject. Stephen Fry describes Wikipedia as a “better, faster source of perfectly acceptable knowledge for almost all purposes that you would require as a normal citizen” (BBC, 2010, Part 1: 10:29)
Even on the move we have access to an abundance of information at our fingertips; we have Smart phones. A clever little device in our pockets which can tell us what time it is, where exactly we are and what we have to do today. It lets us communicate with possibly everyone we would need to communicate with in a day, how many calories there are in the meal we just ate, where the nearest train station is, how long it would take us to get to Hong Kong, how much it would cost, where we would stay when we get there and if we delved deep enough and emailed I am sure we could find out the name of the person who would greet us when we arrive there. As Battelle and O’Reilly remark:
'The Web is no longer a collection of static pages of HTML that describe something in the world. Increasingly, the Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an "information shadow," an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications.'
Perhaps this is the way society's 'thinking' will happen in the near future if it does not already happen to an extent on blogs and forums. Digital natives are rapidly process uselessly large volumes of information and feeding it back into a computer where the combined effort is then processed and large amounts of useful information is formed from relatively small amounts of miscellany considered interesting.
It is true, we are not spending a lot of our time memorising vast amounts of valuable knowledge, but this is not what makes us human. What makes us human is our capacity for thinking abstractly, understand complex information, communicating effectively, reasoning and learning from past experiences, planning, solving problems, and of course emotional responses to situations. It is not the proclaimed disintegration of knowledge that concerns me most in this instance; it's the loss of these essential human traits.
1.4 ATTENTION SPAN
While I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities and clear potential of new technology in terms of expanding the scope of ‘human knowledge’, I am rather more negative about the impact of new technologies on areas relating to concentration and patience. From my perspective, the phenomenal information overload created by digital devices is seriously affecting our attention span and ability to be patient. Based on this I am more in agreement with Carr’s earlier diagnosis of the effects of the technium.
Human kind was never built to concentrate fully: previously we were required to keep our minds open to multitasking so as to look out for predators and other dangers. Granted we have less need for this in recent times due to the civilized nature of the western world. This poverty of attention can now be a positive trait rendering us more efficient creating a large amount of satisfaction in the process. But the distractions are causing us to miss out on worthwhile pursuits whilst we get caught up in the extraneous 'necessities'.
I guess this state of impatient distraction is no surprise when we are spending so much time in this instantaneous, open sourced, digital world, in which information overload and speed dominates every aspect. As the formula one racing driver Mario Andretti's once said: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough” (unknown)
Privy to such quick information, we don't even need to type the correct words to access information we need; if we are close then Google will simply fix it for us, if it hasn't already predicted what we are writing in the first place. And I think it's not just our relationship to the written word that is being changed by the impact of digital culture. Perhaps we are also be losing our ability to have a proper conversation. A lot of time is spent solitary, silently being bombarded with information. In the past when a group of friends and/or family members gathered to catch up they undoubtedly had a lot to say to each other. Now though, we can see each others' status updates on Facebook, we can text and phone each other more often than before and we can 'Google' most things we are simply curious about. So what is it that we talk about when we see each other?
1.5 BOREDOM, CONTEMPLATION AND CHOICE
Why, considering all these modern conveniences, do we not have enough time to do what it is we have a 'need' to do? Have we reached a certain point where we have become obsolete in our own lives? Have we been left in a dizzy state of indecision and 'should be doing' possibly subconsciously 'inventing' these things we desperately have to do in order to aquire some purpose in our lives. People are living in an age of constant activity and unlimited choice. On March 9th 1956 there was parliamentary debate in the House of Lords concerned about a report made by 'The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research on Automation'. There was apprehension regarding what we would do with our time if we had no work to do. I am under no illusion that there would not be any problems if all of our time were our own. It increases our options incredibly and is far from what we need right now.
The amount of choice now involved in the simplest of tasks is quite absurd. Even ordering a coffee can involve making decisions that amount to double figures depending on the place of purchase and an individual's personal taste. When in a state of constant tension it can seem as difficult to make a decision about something trivial, when there are no factors, as it does to make a decision about something that really matters in life. Choices are marketed to us as a freedom, it gives us increased possibility when in actual fact according to Barry Schwartz, author of 'The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less' (2004), we end up paralysed by choices and can instead feel isolated and depressed. In a talk for TED Schwartz describes a study involving voluntary retirement investments in which the more choice individuals were offered, the less likely they were to sign up, even if every available option involved savings of up to £5000 annually (2005). He explains that people are put off by too much choice and he suggests that we need to find the 'magical amount' (2005) of choice and suggests the metaphor of a goldfish in a glass bowl. The goldfish is confined by the limits of it's glass bowl but if something then causes the glass bowl to shatter then the fish will be free to every possibility imaginable yet will be paralysed (2005).
People are unable to experience boredom - partly due to the almost unlimited choice and partly through lack of willingness to experience it - the thought of doing nothing causes extreme anxiety in some cases. The situationists, a group formed in 1957 seeking cultural revolution, were concerned about, but had an undecided view on, our prosperity after automation had taken over the duties of workers. Jorn Asger, one of the forming members of the situationists, states:
'Automation is thus possessed of two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding something personal to automated production, which is a fixation of progress, while at the same time sparing human energies now massively liberated from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects which transcend it, and which release new human energies at a superior level.'
I agree with Asger's statement in the sense that its a negative thing that automation allows no room for idiosyncrasy in mass production but I do not necessarily believe it positive that we are relieved from a certain amount of monotonous activity. Boredom is incredibly useful to individuals. Forget for a second any content of the web, radio, television, etc, none of it is essential to life. Think of these channels as simply something to take up your time. Before a lot of technologies were available, people had to go the long way around often having time to think about the best way of doing something, they would take their time in order to do it correctly as mistakes were very costly and a much more difficult to rectify. Also, the often monotonous task of doing things without digital helpers allowed time for contemplation and reflection. Now, regardless of the task, it is very likely that there is at least one digital aid to make the task quicker and easier, and in doing so cuts out time for rumination.
This empty time is very important - it helps us to process information and evaluate our thoughts and opinions. It helps us to remain curious, keep calm and attentive and can stimulate intelligent and creative thinking. Without this contemplation we can become irrational and unable to think clearly, we develop illogical behaviours such as constantly checking the time and being disappointed by our discovery, tapping our fingernails, persistently checking emails and pressing elevator buttons constantly until the cab appears. The lack of time spent reflecting is making us less contemplative and rational people.
2.1 ARCHIVING OUR LIVES
Figure 3 is a photograph I took during a trip within Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009.3I saw this photograph of a plaque in Mostar recently and began to remember a lot about that moment, the day it was taken on, and also some other things from when I was travelling in the region; details which most probably would have have remained undercover without a visual prompt.
Figure 3: A photograph I took in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 13th July 2009.
I realised just how much of my memory was reliant on visual examples. I enjoy that about photography, one glance can cause you to remember so much about past experiences, but now on such a large scale I am not so sure it is a good element.
We take more photographs, shoot more video, record more sound, etc than ever before and we store all this media in various places, on our computers and online. There is very little need to delete items any longer as hard drives are doubling in size every two years in line with Moore's law (which states that the possible number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years) (Grossman, 2011, p.2) Many people take hundreds of photographs on a trip instead of previously just a few. It is then those photographed moments which seem to have prominence in a mind as they are 'remembered' clearer than the special moments as the mind was absorbed in enjoying the moment rather than documenting it and so were not photographed.
Where does this compulsion for documenting and archiving originate from? We do have an obsession for it and we certainly have the means now more than ever before to have such an obsession. The world is full of relatively inexpensive 'recording devices' and there is an abundance of free software like 'Evernote' to organise your recordings. 'Evernote' claims it can allow you to 'remember everything' (Evernote, n.d). This is a positive thing from their perspective but I am not so sure; just because we can document everything doesn't necessarily mean we should be. Memory is a dangerous thing to experiment with.
2.2 MEMORY IN THE INFORMATION AGE
In Christopher Nolan's film 'Memento' (2000), Leonard cannot build new memories after an incident during which someone killed his wife and left him brain damage. He scrambles information together everyday in the form of notes, polaroid photographs and tattoos only of the absolutely essential. He carries out this routine with the intention of tracking down his wife's killer to seek revenge. I watched this film recognising this behaviour as reminiscent of the way we are striving towards building our archive in an attempt to remember everything, to some sort of important end. The important difference is that we don't seem to have an end point to strive for. As the film progresses it becomes apparent that Leonard had, if we believe Teddy, been dishonest with himself and created misrepresentation within his own personal notes, selecting which memories to retain and which to erase, whilst still waking up every morning believing he is doing the noble task of seeking justice for his wife. These actions lead to the death of others, personal confusion and much to the detriment of his initial intentions. This is obviously an incredibly dramatic fictional case but I am concerned about how much truth there may be in this idea.
Viktor Mayer-Shonberger, in his book 'Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age', (2009) discusses the idea that we are losing our ability to remember due to a reliance on technology to keep track of our lives for us. He argues that we need to stop this archiving and keep forgetting in order to live a balanced life. So much so that he believes we should be putting expiry dates on our digital files in order to make our computer 'forget' in a reasonable time frame (Mayer-Shonberger, 2009, p.171). It seems he wants to erase history in order to preserve the future. Mayer-Shonberger, it seems, is not the only one pushing forward this idea. 'X-Pire' was established by Michael Backes, (Chair for IT Security and Cryptography of Saarland University) and Stefan Lorenz (co-developer of the basic concept of X-pire!) (X-Pire, n.d). It is an inexpensive programme, which attaches a user generated expiry date to files. I am, for reasons I can't fully get my head around, dead against the idea of having expiry dates on files. It is too near choosing what we will remember much like Leonard did in 'Memento' (2000).
2.3 FALSE MEMORY (SELF IMPOSED)
The following quote from Torodov's book 'Hope and Memory' (2003) explains that we derive signification from events in order to find the meaning in which we strive for as humankind:
'The construction of meaning aims to understand the past; and the wish to understand – to understand the past as well as the present – is a defining characteristic of humanity'
(Todorov, 2003, p.123)
We seek an understanding of our existence and always strive to remember; frequently at the expense of complete authenticity. I have used the social networking website Facebook since November 7, 2007 at 17:18. Liam McDonald wrote first on my wall: “Sup shiny bagel”, a flippant greeting, one I would never have remembered if it hadn't been forever immortalized in the archives of Facebook. Around a month ago it became possible to download your Facebook archive and I am currently scrolling through the past few years. I remember very little of the things I have written or other people have written to me but because they are here I assume they were actually written and I can randomly expand the threads of truth remaining after some time to create a facade of truth.
Incredible amounts of detailed information can be discovered about the past. We can place ourselves in preceding decades and actually become oddly nostalgic of the era's music or dress. We read about things that happened previously, detailed accounts of specific events, recordings, live footage; all reliable sources until we become conscious of the fact that every account is actually a subjective interpretation of an actual event. Even so, details are available from multiple viewpoints, more of an idea of truth than a first hand account, except for perhaps smell, even then we can possibly fill in that blank with description and a little imagination and begin to believe we know what happened in times past. With this ease of imagination we leave ourselves open to having our 'memories' controlled by others and the possibility of being mislead.
A couple of years ago a friend told me the story of a woman who was shown a photograph of herself in a hot air balloon when she was quite young. On seeing the photograph she then proceeded to tell a story; she went in a hot air balloon, saw everything from above, had ice cream, saw a clown and so on. In actual fact the photograph was a fake. The woman was appended to the photograph using Photoshop software and had in fact never been in a hot air balloon.
Most people have experienced a point in there lives in which they are unsure if something is reality or unintentionally embellished to become practically untrue. It may be an improvement or a less favourable version, it may be moved forward or backward in time. Whatever we do to the memory, it is not always a conscious or unconscious effort to forget displeasing circumstances, on the most part we are genuinely unaware we do it. We only really get a hunch that we may not have recollected the correct version when looking back objectively at the event, person, or situation in question. This crucial presentiment is typically present though, which is more significant than we may realise.
2.4 FALSE MEMORY (IMPOSED)
In another of Christopher Nolan's films, 'Inception' (2010), he is again working with memory, truth and reality. In this film he is dealing with the implanting of information into a persons mind. The main character, Dom Cobb, is an 'extractor' - one who extracts thoughts or secrets from an oblivious mind. Cobb finds himself as an intentional fugitive due to his work and is offered a choice. If he somehow manages to complete inception, the seemingly impossible opposite of extraction, his life can return to normal and he is able to go back to his family. He must plant an idea to be perceived by a mind as its own. The idea of someone delving into your subconscious and uncovering your innermost feelings is obviously distressing enough, but not nearly as unsettling as someone actually planting new thoughts and ideas in your head which you to honestly believe as your own. Unfortunately this is not as far fetched as we would like to think.
Consider the story of the woman and the hot air balloon. In that instance it is fairly innocuous, but it brings up some interesting concerns. It is quite easy to empathise with the woman on why she was so sure. It is human nature to believe what we see. Although she did invent the memory herself she was provoked into doing so by an 'implanted' fallacious image. The story shows us just how susceptible to 'inception' we actually are.
It is worth taking into consideration just how much information can be absorbed unconsciously in comparison to how much absorption is a conscious action. We can be manipulated with astonishing ease. It is not just others we have to be cautious of, with all this digital archiving occurring, perhaps we should be questioning the validity of items found in the vaults of our personal archives as we may begin to trust our digital memories over our own minds. We are already beginning to trust the technium more than ever before. Even on such a superficial level as us trusting technologies such as traffic lights; people press the button and, often without even a casual glance, just walk into the road. Essentially we are flippantly entrusting these devices with our lives.
It is not only implanted memories we should be vigilant of. As far back as the 1930's Stalin was reworking existing photographs in order to encourage existing memories to be excised. Figure 4 below shows Voroshilov, Molotov, Stalin and Yezhov. Following his removal from the NKVD and his murder, Yezhov was removed from the photograph. Boobbyer explains 'photographs were often retouched to ensure the removal of repressed people' (2000, p.73).
This memory management is obviously not a strictly a technological or even a recent problem but the incredible opportunity that digital technology brings to this area is certainly of considerable concern.
Figure 4: Photographs depicting Voroshilov, Molotov, Stalin and Yezhov. Following his removal from the NKVD and his murder Yezhov was removed from the photograph.
3.1 INSTITUTIONALISED BY THE TECHNIUM
So many everyday tasks are made easier by digital technologies. I personally benefit as a photographer having instant access to my photographs in various desktop and online archives and storage sites, such as Flickr, Facebook, my website and my blog.
It seems to have gone past the optimum point where technologies are invented in order to perform tasks that were in the past monotonous for mankind. As soon as a machine can do a task quickly and inexpensively enough we will let it take over. This has carried on in a more absurd manner in the information age; if a computer can do something for us we will let it. Whether or not it is quicker or makes the task easier for us is irrelevant. We have been institutionalised by the technium, by our digital culture to accept this as natural. For instance, my mother has a battery operated salt dispenser. You simply push a button on the top and the sea salt is ground for you. Grinding salt is not exactly physically demanding yet when the battery runs out there is no way to manually operate the product rendering it useless.
We do less and less of the essential day to day tasks we need to complete in order to survive. Machines are built to do things for us and we treat them accordingly, but when we let them do everything for us and we begin to almost humanise them that's essentially where our problem lies. It is inevitable that this dependance will continue until in the near future, if it hasn't happened already, these new technologies become indispensable to us and we literally will not be able live without them. What does that mean for human life when we cannot live autonomously without technology? It may indeed seem to be an irrelevant question since digital technologies seem to be continually progressing at an alarming rate but that may not always be the case. David Korowicz, Director of Risk/Resilience & Feasta, Dublin, writes about how this system of growing support we have is more fragile than it seems to us at present:
'The interesting thing is how habituated we have become to these things. We do not notice, or 'see' such dependencies while everything works - people accept your money, your bank card works, there is food in the supermarket, the electricity is on, the loo flushes, your mobile phone works, the bus arrives, you have the things you need to do your job etc. All of this hangs together because trillions of supply chain connections across the world. Which itself is tied together by money/ credit/ banking systems...'
(Korowicz, D. (email@example.com), 21 January 2011. The web of things. Email to Natalie Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Korowicz is correct they are fragile interdependent networks we depend on. We must remember that we are elevated by technologies. We have fast access to almost everything, within reason we can do what we want to, see what we want to, speak to whom we want to, but very easily disaster can strike. When this happens it is often down to humanity to survive on its own once again. Andrew Simms explains in his essay 'Nine Meals from Anarchy: Oil dependence, climate change and the transition to resilience' that it could happen easier then you may think:
'Imagine that the the petrol stations ran dry. The trucks would stop rolling. The supermarket shelves would be bare within three days. We would be nine meals away from anarchy'
(Executive summary of Simm, 2008)
Simm refers to peak oil but there are many other things that could leave our petrol stations dry. Even the extremely cold winter we are having this year is causing a petrol shortage.
3.2 THE INTERNET AS DICTATOR
In another quote taken from the book 'Hope and Memory' (2003), Todorov accuses the west of assisting a kind of self suffocation of information. Soon the west will not recognise contentment, be completely unable to retain knowledge and eventually numbed to the point of being incognisant of anything:
'We often hear the liberal democracies of Western Europe and North America reproached for aiding and abetting the decline of memory and installing a reign of forgetting. As we drown in an ever growing flood of information, we are accused of being destined to evacuate it at the same speed. We have been cut off from our traditions, such critics say; we have been dumbed down by leisure society; we have lost out spiritual curiosity and no longer know great works of the past; and so we are condemned to the vain pleasures of the instant and the crime of forgetting. By this argument, democratic states would be leading people along the same path as totalitarian ones - less roughly, to be sure, but actually more effectively, because their techniques provoke no resistance and make us consenting participants in the long march to obliviousness.'
(Todorov, 2003, pp.119)
It seems like a pretty scary scenario from Todorov but its not so far out as you may imagine. For example, look at China and at what we call the 'great firewall of china' China's government is blocking a huge amount of online information from its citizens. But that is not all, Jonathan Watts explains in a section of his article, 'China's secret internet police target critics with web of propaganda', in the Guardian in 2005:
'Although the existence of an internet police force - estimated at more than 30,000 - has been known for some time, attention has previously focused on their work as censors and monitors. Countless critical comments appear on bulletin boards of major portals such as Sohu and Sina only to be erased minutes, or sometimes just seconds, later. In the most recent case, all postings that blamed corrupt local officials or slow-moving police for the deaths of 88 children in floods last Friday were removed almost as soon as they appeared.'
This kind of control is by no means only an issue in China, similar censorship and restraint are a major problem in many other countries. 'Reporters Without Borders' release an annual list of 'Internet Enemies' and also keeps us up to date on what is happening in the way of internet censorship and propaganda throughout the world. Places like Iran had found routes around this censorship by using software like 'Haystack' to allow access to sites which are blocked. By using this software they could look at what they wanted to access online with no fear of being found out and persecuted. That is what was thought at the time anyway, it turns out that the software was flawed (Arthur, 2010) and the people using it were at risk of being uncovered by the Iranian government.
The people who played a part in creating the internet wanted it to be free, open and inexpensive. But these traits may be under jeopardy as the large telephone giants in the US want to, in effect, privatise the internet and slow down certain sites and services. They could block competitors and charge extortionate fees to use certain services. 'Save the Internet' state on their website:
'The CEOs of all the largest telecom companies have been clear about their plans to build a tiered Internet with faster service for the select few companies willing or able to pay exorbitant tolls. Net Neutrality advocates are not imagining a doomsday scenario. We are taking the telecom execs at their word'
(Save the Internet, n.d)
Currently the internet has no central point of control. Having one would destroy the positives of the internet remodelling it into the opposite of the creators' intent. The kind of censorship going on just now, like that which the 'Reporters Without Borders' website reveals, is an appalling reality. If we go further down the road of trusting and relying on the internet for daily news, communication and learning then we may end up in a very scary world indeed.
3.3 WE CAN CONTROL
Dr Aleks Krotoski describes the web's affect on politics:
'The web is shaking up world politics because it can capture information from a crowd of eye witnesses and then it can transmit it globally in real time. Its unmediated, its interactive and its mobile. This means that its a radical step forward from the 20th century's great gift to politics, live television'
(BBC, 2010, Part 2 06:42)
This is evident in many cases including that of Ory Okolloh, an African woman who was witnessing the violence first hand after the disputed elections in 2008 and then hearing it reported on television in a very different way. Okolloh felt she was duty bound to blog about the situation. She would gather information from friends, family, neighbours and her own personal experience and update the blog to let the rest of the world know the facts (BBC, 2010, Part 1). By letting the world know what was happening there it pressured the Kenyan authorities to get involved and control the violence. Seeing the good in this activity, Okolloh and others created a website, 'Ushahidi', (meaning 'witness' in Swahili) through which users can log in and report attacks and keep informed as to what is happening in other areas. It started from one woman’s aspiration to tell the rest of the world the horrible truth about what was happening in these areas yet Ushahidi has now formed into a large-scale charity and helps many similar concerns throughout the world.
A similar thing happened in Iran recently when the country banned the international news from reporting. People started using Twitter, another social networking site, in order to both let the outside world know the horrifying things that were going on but also to plan and organise further action. Recent events in the Middle East, in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia have shown the incredible importance of digital technologies as instruments of social and political change (revolution). Not surprisingly from Egypt, to Libya, to China, governments are now attempting to exercise far more direct control over the exchange of information in virtual spaces such as Facebook and Twitter to counteract the so called 'Twitter revolutions'. It is reported that the Egyptian government shut off internet access. This seems likely showing the statistics in figure 5:
Figure 5: Internet traffic in Egypt on 27th January 2011.
Chinese people have responded to this control and blocking of well know social networking websites such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter by making their own versions of the websites: www.renren.com (Chinese Facebook) www.t.sina.com.cn (Chinese twitter) and www.youku.com (Chinese Youtube).
The use of technology by digital natives to circumvent traditional forms of power and control has also recently been prevalent domestically. As a recent headline noted; 'Student protesters use Google Maps to outwit police' (Thornhill, 2010) Tuition fees protesters used a version of Google maps to track the whereabouts of police in order to cause more destruction during the recent protests in London and elsewhere. The internet was initially created in the 60's for the Department of Defence for the exchange of information and to aid government security. Today people are using the creation in order to create maximum chaos, damages and subsequently publicity. It has been turned around and used against the government.
Not only is the web shaking up world politics, it is shaking up community spirit. It seems as if the majority of the world is in a room together and are sharing stories, music, photographs and other information with each other. We are perhaps just beginning to realise the full extent of the effect that we can have on the world by utilising these technologies and the near global community spirit we have at hand.
There are a constant stream of Facebook groups encouraging a bonding of individuals to create an impact which seems unlikely. The groups stem from the certain to the seemingly impossible. It is amazing what has been achieved so far. The list of campaigns ranges from the trivial and morally dubious (Jeremy Clarkson for Prime Minster) to the more subversive (the recent campaign to get Rage Against the Machine to the top spot in the music charts as a protest against the dominance of X-Factor and Simon Cowell). The success of this campaign resulted in others (John Cages 4”33 to number one) and there is also the occasional more serious campaigns (Free Burma).
An interesting thing to note in these types of campaigns is the lack of payment. This may be due to the small amount of individual labour or it may be due to the naivety or indifference of the individuals involved. It's for a cause not a corporation. People are willing to do a lot for nothing in the right situation. Of course the openness of the technology means that any campaign is open to being hijacked by the very people it may be opposing. For instance, there is some speculation that Sony, the record company, started the campaign to get Rage Against the Machine to number one. If they did start this campaign it would no doubt have been a good move for them financially. The Sony label represents both of the acts so it would be a win win situation for them. It would simply drive the sales upwards. So, what was it? People taking the power into their own hands or a large corporation leading the masses into generating huge profits for them?
Society has always made more noticeable advancements in more urban areas rather alone. The recent abundance of flash mobs were most probably sparked by T-Mobile through their television advertisements in which they hired 400 actors to start dancing in Liverpool train station and give the impression of spontaneity. Since the advertisement was aired there have been many events planned and spread by means of social network. One flash mob appeared in the same station just after theT-Mobile advertisement aired on television. This time though around 2000 people turned up for a silent disco and filled the station prompting the security team to close the station for 30 minutes to clear the dancers. I suppose it took T-Mobile far more time and effort to arrange their fake flash mob than the single person who started the Facebook campaign did. Every flash mob since though I guess has sparked thoughts of theT-Mobile advertisement. It is when realising this that the pooling of information seems essential in order to move forward quicker.
3.4 THEY CAN CONTROL
Is the technological society we live in encouraging us to forget? Are we constantly being battered with so much constant information to the point where we can no longer process, consider and remember anything in any meaningful way? Explained in a certain way our actions online are quite disturbing, we trawl through information attempting to take in vast amounts and process it, downloading, collecting and absorbing various pages, documents and files from around the globe, keeping the majority of people we have met updated on the most mundane aspects of our lives (now including where we are specifically!), checking up on our acquaintances, updating large databases and information resources free of charge and without being asked to do so, and so many more similar and not so similar activities. Described in this way we certainly seem very unresponsive and robotic.
Amazon tracks what we look at, what we put in out basket, what we buy, and uses this information, and information from a myriad of other sources, in order to make suggestions and target advertising very specifically for the individual. Can you imagine this in a non-virtual sense? Envisage yourself shopping for food in Tesco or somewhere similar and one of the employees is walking around just behind you the whole time watching what you look at and documenting it carefully, also documenting everything you put into your basket, even if you change your mind and remove from your basket it stays on a list, and then what you eventually take to the checkout and purchase. It is very intrusive regardless of which way.
3.5 TAKING BACK THE CONTROL
Jeff Bezos, founder, president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Amazon UK think that all this tracking is an inevitable stage in evolution:
'We humans co-evolve with our tools. Our tools change us, and then we change our tools. And that cycle continues. And we do more of whatever is easy... and so as our tools evolve in new directions to make new activities easier and easier, we do more of those things.'
(Bezos, 2009, 3.47mins)
I recall my grandmother telling me she was typing up a diary she had written whilst travelling. After she had finished (it took a while) she asked me to turn it into a book for her as she had seen some of the 'Blurb' books I had created. When I opened her finished document I was bemused to see that every line was capitalized and only went three quarters of the way across the page. After a few seconds I realised she had been using Microsoft Word like a typewriter, the last machine she had used to type up a document, an so she had been typing along the page until nearing the end and pressing enter after each line.
Digital immigrants4 and digital settlers are struggling to move with the technologies set down in front of them. New devices seem to be used in the same way as the previous device was used or it's treated in the same way as it was when completing the same task previously.
In terms of research I think, in certain respects, digital natives are doing similar things with new digital technologies. We have been using the internet as if we would a book. Often skimming through information and reading around a subject before pinpointing an exact area of interest to investigate fully. This only becomes negative because we are easily swayed off topic by instant access to other relevant (or not so relevant) sources. It seems this is currently changing with the introduction of the 'app', which should give the user the targeted information they were searching for and less able to make dramatic switches off topic.
Think of the internet as the universal motor and think of all the smart phones, ipads, kindles, and whatever other devices which are in the process of being made, as all the attachments for the motor. Maybe the app thing is a way to get people to be slightly more removed from their fixed screens and into the real world with portable screens. Fixed apps so as not to 'waste' time surfing the web aimlessly. The apps on these devices have proper, targeted, time saving information and tools in which we can use instantly and for only that task. We get less choice, which is essentially what we need.
The app may be the way forward in terms of direct information and less room for distraction but with the iphone for example, it is in constant use. It distracts the user from reality any time, anywhere they choose to be rather than being side tracked solely in front of their computer screen. This makes for more unsocial behaviour and very individualistic tendencies. The manufacturers of smart phones are constantly advertising their products as the things you need to be social. In actual fact it leaves many people in isolation. Constant meaningless communication with someone online often means the 'need' for less face to face contact with the person. The text below is taken from the Samsung website and is advertising the mobile phone I own:
'Embrace your own personality with the striking Samsung Monte. With all the latest features including Wi-Fi, GPS and social networking, the Monte will keep you in the loop and never lost for words or direction. See how quickly this mobile finds a place in your heart.'
There is not one part of that statement which is not disturbing in some way.
Kevin Kelly has a theory that the direction of the evolution of technology is inevitable. (2010) He believes that everything is bound to be invented sooner or later. He believes that it works because something started it all and everything else had to follow suit, it may happen at different times in different parts of the world but it will happen. It will also usually happen in the same order every time. Developments in new technologies do not skip a stage. Which is especially surprising I guess in this age when there is so much global communication. People in developing countries are well aware of some of the technologies available in the developed world, a few 'stages' ahead of where they are; yet they continue through the 'appropriate' stages of development. As Kelly describes in 'What Technology Wants' (2010) today we are perhaps unconsciously indebted to earlier innovations in technology. Kelly uses this story as an example of how the standard Roman road proportions of 4'8.5 are still with us today in the most unlikely places. He writes:
'when the English started building tramways, they used the same width so the same horse carriages could be used. And when they started building railways with horseless carriages, naturally the rails were 4' 8.5" wide. Imported labourers from the British Isles built the first railways in the Americas using the same tools and jigs they were used to. Fast forward to the US Space shuttle, which is built, in parts, around the country and assembled in Florida. Because the two large solid fuel rocket engines on the side of the launch Shuttle were sent by railroad from Utah, and that line transversed a tunnel not much wider than the standard track, the rockets themselves could not be much wider in diameter than 4' 8.5." As one wag concluded: "So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of two horses' arse." More or less. This is how technology constrains itself over time.'
(Kelly, 2010, Part 012: 12:45)
The technium is always being reworked and developing but I guess it is progressing faster lately due to the incredible speed of communication and evaluation, which is only getting faster. Day to day life has rarely, if ever, transformed as quickly within a persons life span as it is today. The following quote is from an article in The Economist showing in real terms the rate of technological change during the last century:
'Over the past 40 years global computing power has increased a billionfold. Number-crunching tasks that once took a week can now be done in seconds. Today a Ford Taurus car contains more computing power than the multimillion-dollar mainframe computers used in the Apollo space programme […] It took more than a century after its invention before steam became the dominant source of power in Britain. Electricity achieved a 50% share of the power used by America's manufacturing industry 90 years after the discovery of electromagnetic induction, and 40 years after the first power station was built. By contrast, half of all Americans already use a personal computer, 50 years after the invention of computers and only 30 years after the microprocessor was invented. The Internet is approaching 50% penetration in America 30 years after it was invented and only seven years since it was launched commercially in 1993.'
(Open University, 2010, quoting The Economist, 23 September, 2000, p.5)
The article shows how America has become much quicker at adopting major new technological advances in recent years and it seems to be the case in most western countries. And technium shows no signs of slowing down, in fact it is increasing its pace all the time as Grossman explains Ray Kurzweil's research into the coming of 'The Singularity'5:
'He kept finding the same thing: exponentially accelerating progress. "It's really amazing how smooth these trajectories are," he says. "Through thick and thin, war and peace, boom times and recessions." Kurzweil calls it the law of accelerating returns: technological progress happens exponentially, not linearly.'
(Grossman, 2011, p.2.)
It seems that nothing will stop technological progress. Another possible reason technology is developing so rapidly in the west is due to a society's escalating general attitude of acceptance. Arthur C. Clarke had three laws one of these laws being: 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' (1962, p.2). He suggests that it is difficult for technology to reshape rapidly; it needs to be in certain stages. If you propose something too many steps ahead of its time it may be met with deep concern and may fail to fully thrive. My Grandmother told me about the time that her 'old Granny', aged 82 years, was first subjected to a television set first hand. The family rented one and it was positioned in pride of place in the living room, this also happened to be where her old granny slept and she refused to get changed in the room if the television was turned on, she would make sure it was definitely off before she undressed so that the people on television couldn't see her naked. I myself remember an advert in Woolworth's advertising the first 'pay as you go' mobile phone and was immensely confused by how this would work. Would I put coins in and someone would come and collect them for me? I knew phones, with wires, so the concept of a mobile phone wasn't absolutely ridiculous. Only a short number of years later and they are now irrefutable companions to so many people. There are around 4.1 billion mobile phones in use in the world today. (I am green, n.d) yet if you showed someone a mobile telephone even a hundred years ago it would come across as magic and there would be incredible outrage. This is comparable with nearly all new technologies; they cannot be wholly introduced into society until people are ready to adopt them.
It may not seem so but technology is introduced slowly into our day to day lives. Most technologies should not be needed and that has been the case for long time. Human life sustained itself well enough, if not better, before the introduction of machines. These machines are now a necessity because they have become depended on. Life would have gone on before they were automated just as life will go on after but there is no going back now. We are making technologies to compensate for other technologies pitfalls.
4.2 TEACHING THE TECHNIUM TO BECOME AUTONOMOUS
There is a feature of Facebook, which has just been launched, called 'suggested tags'. It is being offered to users as a helpful, user-friendly tool to help make our lives easier. It will make things quicker and easier but like most things on Facebook, when thought about in any depth, it raises concern. The program is not told that I am me, Natalie Wilson, by the person who invented the program, the program was actually taught this information by a friend of mine named Julie Duffy on 14th December 2007 by the action of tagging my face a total of fourteen times in an album of photographs she uploaded, and then she reinforced this learning on 3rd February 2008 by tagging me in a further four photographs. This programme has now had it reinforced 106 times that this face's name is Natalie Wilson.
The technium has a type of self confirming way of working. It seems to be developing at an alarming rate. The World wide web is an incredible information source; we have access to information created by an incredible amount of people from all over the world on a massive array of subject areas. It was created in order to facilitate the communication of people near and far, to help them collaborate, share, and create. We are creating a monster in a way. Every single person who uses the internet is teaching the technium, every time that we post a status update, upload a photo, tag someone in it, upload a movie, search for a word/phrase, click on a link directed at you. Every time you do any of these things you are confirming or denying to behaviour of the internet. You are reconfirming. You are allowing the technology to evolve at the rate it is. Collectively every user is in control. It seems these technologies are being used in order to control every aspect of life, ironically though there is an uncontrollable monster being created in the process.
4.3 THE TECHNIUM TEACHING ITSELF
Nature and technology have a lot in common. Both are concurrently amazing and chilling, both grow symbiotically with human life. But perhaps of most concern is that both are wholly uncontrollable when faced with on a large scale. The internet is bigger than all of us combined.
Figure 6: Drawing by Maya, E13 Primary Schools6.
Korowicz writes in the essay 'Tipping Point' of the way technology develops without a plan. No one person, or group of individuals even, are responsible for societies current state. It just happened:
'We may look at our complex civilisation and say ‘we did this, and if we did this, we surely can do almost anything!‟ However we did not do this intentionally, with a plan that was executed, it is a self-organised system. The complexity is beyond our comprehension or ability to manage.'
(Korowicz, 2010, p.44)
Its important to understand that some, if not all, aspects of the technium cannot be controlled and individuals should start focusing on mastering technology. People should be using it to their advantage in ways it is definitely needed and to not use it for things they don't require help with. It is useful for innumerable things but not so useful for such things that replace what makes us human. Many people complete quizzes on Facebook, and elsewhere online, which take information inputted, process it and come to a conclusion, which tells us about ourselves. This information is then posted online on our Facebook walls and others will use this evaluation to judge us in a certain way. It's an absurd notion.
'the technium contains 170 quadrillion computer chips, wired up into one mega scale computing platform. The total number of transistors in this global network is approximately the same as the number of neurons in you brain'
(Kelly, 2010, Part 001, 38:11)
Developments in cybernetics have meant the creation of robots which are becoming more and more self reliant. Take PR2 Robot 'Johnny 5' (Markoff, 2009) who can find its way around its office building opening doors and most incredibly plugging itself in when its 'tired'. If cybernetics develops as quickly as other forms of technology there will soon a worrying number of robots used for general purposes, which I find terrifying.
Combine the information they could contain, their ability to be programmed, and the sculptural ability of, for example, Duane Hanson and we have a problem such as the problem Rick Deckard had in 'Bladerunner'. The problem is, if faced with the task of finding out who was human and who was robot, I am sure there would be mistakes. To begin with, people with certain types of autism7 could so easily fail these emotional tests shown at the beginning of 'Bladerunner.' Sure it's a only a sci-fi film but scientists at NASA have 'pointed out that Ridley Scott's 1982 Blade Runner painted a rather convincing image of a near future Los Angeles' (Brown, 2011) There is also speculation from NASA that sci-fi can no longer predict anything with any credence:
'Space agency NASA hs named and shamed Roland Emmerich's world-ending disaster flick, 2012, as the most absurd and scientifically flawed sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory.'
NASA continues to mention a string of recent films they have refused to work with because their scripts are so absurd. It is no wonder though that the makers of sci-fi films can no longer keep up with a conceivable prediction for the future when the bulk of the western world is trying hopelessly to keep up the with shape of the present and all that the newer technologies bring to it.
If the technium does have as much power as a human brain surely at some point the technium can become able to think independently and make its own decisions and form questions. I am constantly 'communicating' with the technium, making requests of it. Even the pin machine in Sainsbury's is asking me questions. It asks me if the woman serving me was giving me a suitable level of customer service and also about my phone 'top-up' choices. I can actually quote method payment method if I felt the need. I was making a comment on a friends photo on Facebook and when I click 'comment' 'The server found your request confusing and isn't sure how to proceed' I was unaware until this point that I could 'confuse' a server by attempting a simple task. These things are common in computers, they are not perfect and contrary to popular believe make mistakes. It is quite perturbing to think how much we may rely on these computers in the future.
We have highly regarded what it is that makes us human in the past and continue to hold our intelligence in such high regard as it is now, to a great extent. If we accept that our intelligence can be a developing trait of computers and other inanimate objects then how do we know what intelligence really is? Are we trivialising one of the most important things that make us human? If we trust computers over our own thoughts then we may be in trouble.
4.4 ARE WE BECOMING ROBOTIC?
Perhaps it is not the case that computers are becoming more autonomous and able to think somewhat independently. It may be possible that we are becoming less able to think independently and are becoming less autonomous beings. The more we use various technological crutches the more precarious we are as a race.
There is an email plug-in called 'Tone Check', which is available for download. It is like a spell check feature for unintended projection of emotion.
'Stop e-mail confusion before it happens.
When was the last time you interpreted an e-mail the wrong way? Or wondered what got a customer, friend, or colleague so upset – only to discover it was your perceived tone?
Words are loaded emotional weapons.
ToneCheck™ ensures your tone is clearly communicated and understood before you hit the SEND button. It evaluates words and phrases for the intensity of 8 primary emotions, allowing you to make corrections and adjust the overall tone before you send the wrong message.'
(Tone Check, n.d)
If it is in fact the case that individuals no longer have the confidence themselves to send a simple email articulating their thoughts without doubt of unwanted emotional signals independently without the use of a computer programme to screen the email first then that signals a immensely difficult situation we have got ourselves into.
Whether technological progress is a smart move for mankind or not, the most incongruous thing about this situation is that we are all collectively to blame for this constant surge of information. The internet is essentially open source. If we are leading ourselves into a totalitarian state of mind altering and control then no one particular person or group of people is responsible; digital natives, digital immigrants and digital settlers are playing a small but significant part.
With all this in mind I am not convinced that we are walking into this 'long march to obliviousness' (Todorov, 2003, p.119) with our eyes closed, most people to some degree or another, are aware of technium's effect on western society. People are aware of how it affects our absorption and processing of information but they are also aware of the immense benefit that it brings to our lives.
I don't hold the opinion that we should all stop right now and turn our backs on these new technologies, nevertheless, I unequivocally believe we need to reflect more seriously the ways in which we utilise each individual area of technium we are familiar with, weigh up the positives with the negatives and try to take our lives into our own hands before perhaps we are not given a choice.
Western civilisation currently seems to be perched on a ledge, completely on the edge, oscillating from extremity to extremity. We have connections on once side on which we are embracing modern life and using what we have accessible to us to do incredibly sophisticated work in astronomy, medicine and science. But also we are increasingly tempted to stumble onto the other side where we go too far into the realm of futile technology, even technology for technologies sake which leads civilization into oblivion, preoccupation, failing to really absorb anything, working mechanically and destroying the thought processes and emotions which are the important attributes which make us human.
There is a great need for a balance to be reached between the, seemingly more tempting, decision to choose convenience and the decision to do things manually. This charismatic ruler needs to be resisted and what digital technologies are allowed to do and what should be done by more traditional means needs to be chosen considerably more cautiously.