I Believe in Technology

My post about Edgelands was essentially a whine about people not getting it. In the last few days, I’ve read four things that helped me understand that a little more. This is a quick exercise in joining the dots that ends with some thoughts on religion. In doing so, there’s a chance I may have gone a little bit insane.

TWO THINGS ABOUT PEOPLE

The first is this speech by Ben Hammersley, the first half of which is a very eloquent explanation of People Who Don’t Get It and Why That’s Bad. It’s aimed at a different group of people – what you could broadly call The Ruling Classes – but it’s entirely extensible to all kinds of other sectors. My interest  is in the cultural world, and there’s a direct analogue between the two.

In summary, Ben says that our future planning isn’t taking Moore’s Law into account, so we’re looking ahead based on the capabilities of today, not even those of the near-future. Meanwhile, the people who make decisions just aren’t engaging, because they’re using a toolkit that they developed pre-1990 to make decisions.

Then, this tweet from Christy Dena popped up:

Online #transmedia discussions are stuck in a Groundhog Day, it is the same newbie questions over & over again. Need more advanced stuff too

This rang a bell with me, because it’s not just transmedia. It’s the case across the entire digital landscape.

People are getting on in the middle of a continuum, and they want to go back to the start. People of my generation were educated to understand the history and mechanics of a thing before they made their own conclusions. Lots of educated people have a natural inclination to start at the start – to take things apart and put them back together again.

But, to Ben’s point, things are moving too quickly to go back to the start. So it looks like the world is starting to belong to the people who don’t question or interrogate, but who, instead, gladly accept miracles. And so it’s easy to get scared that Google is making us stupid and games are making us fat. Because it relates to what we know. And lots of people – by and large those born before 1980 – have to find a new way of judging and thinking that isn’t just really frightening. A new way to start in the middle without surrendering control.

TWO THINGS ABOUT THINGS

Friday was a good day for people writing clever things on the Internet.

James Bridle wrote this:

Digitisation makes something ephemeral, reproducible, robot-readable—and networkable. In fact, its capacity to be connected to other things like and unlike itself is its most insistent quality. It longs for it. The digital object is immanent in the network. It is where it is most truly itself, which is everything.

Immanent is a nice word. It’s a theological term, used to describe the being of God relative to the material world. It’s a useful reappropriation, giving a word to the fizz and the magic of connectedness.

And Mark Sorrell wrote this:

TV programs will become software … Shops are becoming software. Amazon is already software and a shop. Supermarkets deliver to your house when you order online. They are becoming software. You can’t fix your car anymore because your car is now software. Google themselves are developing quite capable self-driving cars. Drivers are becoming software.

Which is, essentially, the same thing, but in a different context. About things we feel we should understand, but don’t, because they’re software now. And we can all just close our eyes and pretend this isn’t happening: we don’t have to worry till the car starts flying, but by then it will be too late. And it will be too late because of the immanence of the object, and it’s profound being in the network.

SO

James’s point about immanence brings me to the idea (and this might be wrong, but it feels right as I explore this on a Sunday morning – let’s see where it goes) that the last time Western value systems were challenged so profoundly was with Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species. This questioned the certainty of peoples’ beliefs and undermined the myths they used to understand the world.

That also had the advantage of being a discreet moment, rather than a fast-moving continuum.It was an ideological Big Bang, so it was easier to understand, both at the time and with hindsight.

And we’ve spent the last 160-odd years coming to terms with this kind of rationalising, only for science to do it again: it’s created a whole new system of unknowables, that we can barely understand the potential of. Post-Enlightenment rationalism is now too difficult, and we’re back to dealing with an unconfigurable system that you can either believe in or reject.

For immanence to become acceptable to mankind, it needs a mythology – a religion – a point of easy access, with all the problems that entails. I wonder if that is where we’re heading next?

Without a Bible for our times that encodes a system of knowns and knowables, our ability to become critical and cynical will become exponentially reduced: we’ll either be bogged down in starting again or absorbed by the ease of unquestioning belief.

Both seem as perilous as the other. And the third option frankly insane. Let’s see how that goes.

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One thought on “I Believe in Technology

  1. The “western value system” bit is interesting because in the far east we are and always have been part of a system. There is no beginning, middle, end. There just is or is not.
    Their stories and legends are more about the system, realisation of the system, and the actualisation of self that comes from recognising both the system and the self.

    The second bit that I find fascinating about digitising things is the around use. Physical things wear out, digital things get better with use. They gather a dust of use that often becomes the thing. Like shells around molluscs.
    Particular important when we talk of theft. Stealing a film. Using a film, viewing a film.
    We need better verbs as well as nouns.

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