Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Defense of Fire, or I Heart the Interwebs

A while ago I posted about Eating the Dinosaur. I'm back to chat a bit about the last chapter which drove me nuts. It's written in a perfectly serviceable fashion so there's nothing wrong there but the content touches on one of those topics that really gets my goat. Briefly, in Klosterman's own words:

"Like so many modern people, my relationship with technology makes no sense whatsoever: It's the most important aspect of my life that I hate. The more central it becomes to how I live, the worse it seems for the world at large. I believe all technology has a positive short-term effect and a negative long-term impact, and - on balance - the exponential upsurge of technology's social import has been detrimental to the human experience."

In the context in which this is expressed (i.e. not the words of a leader about to, er, lead her group of radicals against the establishment) I 100% believe only someone of privilege in a developed country would say something so nonsensical.

"The only people who think the Internet is a calamity are people whose lives have been hurt by it; the only people who insist the Internet is wonderful are those who need it to give their life meaning."

I have to assume this is an overstatement simply for contentious content. Seriously, this is too broad in scope to even take seriously.

"His [Ted Kascinsky] ideas were too radical, but at least they were his own."

WTF? Like he wasn't socialized? Kascinsky was produced by a society and even interacted with that society before withdrawing to express himself in unacceptable ways. I would agree that he has some authorial right to his ideas but to suggest he invented some kind of new idea about society's relationships with technology is to act like other people hadn't already said this (and, much to their credit, without violent follow-through) and that he was not influenced by the very society he shunned. Puh-lease! I have to imagine the doomsday soap-boxer was invented not long after fire. You know there was that one guy looking at the flames thinking, "This shit could burn the whole valley down! I'll take my meat raw thanks and the rest of you fire-loving crazies can go to hell."

"Technology is bad for civilization. We are living in a manner that is unnatural. We are latently enslaved by our own ingenuity, and we have unknowingly constructed a simulated world. The benefits of technology are easy to point out... , but they do not compensate for the overall loss of humanity that is its inevitable consequence. As a species, we have never been less human than we are right now."

It's not that I mind the anti-tech attitude. If that's how you feel, fine, but when you base it specifically on its so-called dehumanizing aspects I have to call the straight-up bullshit call on you. I have two questions for folks of this school of thought: How far back would you like to go (and then make no subsequent progress) to keep yourself human and Why are you letting a tool run your life? The first question is facetious (Mr. Klosterman meet Fire-Hating Guy, long shall you rant!) but the second is serious.

Technology is a tool. Period. No, exclamation point! It is only a tool. Just as a hammer can help a person construct shelter it can also help one person harm another. Because it has this potential and I have the "ingenuity" to realize it, does that mean I am now enslaved by the hammer and it is only a matter of time before I harm my society by hitting someone over the head with it? This argument is just too silly. You want to hate technology and list all the ways in which it "controls" people and "is bad for civilization," then I'll be annoyed but I'll leave you to it. However, to say that technology and humanity have an inverse relationship is not to recognize some very basic facts about society.

One of our great needs is communication. One of our most precious preservers of freedom is information. Please tell me a greater tool for communication and the dissemination of information than the internet? Yeah, I know there's a lot of crap out there but I'm not an idiot. Just as I don't allow technology to run my life (or, for fuck's sake, give it meaning) I know to take what is offered by anyone in any form with a critical eye. If a bunch of random, irrelevant crap is the price of easy access to information then it is a very small price indeed. 

My gosh, I'm just so freaking irked right now thinking about this! I'm sitting here on my couch after a day of the following: re-reading a favorite book, watching college football, watching the world series, eating delicious food, riding my horse, catching up on my favorite internet sites, making plans to meet friends for dinner (via email, natch!), having interesting conversations with Dr M about ethical shortcomings in the management of college athletes, and playing with my dogs. Why can I have this wonderful day? Because of communication, information exchange, and technology!

I didn't actually have to hand over any cash to do what I did today but all of those things cost money. I have money because I have a job. I can do that job because I have an education. I have an education because many brave women came before me to demand the right to education (not to mention equal pay for equal work). These things are possible because I live in a stable society vs. societies that currently must focus on the most basic medical and nutritional needs of their people. I have all of these things because of communication and information exchange, and these vital aspects of society are enhanced and preserved through technology.

You know there are still women who aren't allowed to go to school and there are still kids who are too sick to go to school and there are dictators that are still successful in their coups all because of limited access to information? The only way to fight this is committing to access for everyone. If a few people out there can't handle the tools of technology then I am sorry but they've made their choices. Personally, I'm going to encourage innovation* and advancement until everyone out there has a way to get to the information they need. If the cell phones and internets are going to get us there then sign me up!

Scoff at technology if you like but take a moment to say a heartfelt thank you that you have the privilege to do this. If not for technology it would not be possible.

*And I will dearly hope that one of those innovations made possible by ingenuity and technology will be how to have all this technology without rampant environmental destruction. That, of course, is another topic for another day.


  1. And I can use technology to thank you again for dinner!

  2. See??? Tech IS super awesome! Dinner was lovely and I CAN'T WAIT for later today. See you later and congrats again!