Wednesday, October 26, 2011

He's right

Jonathan Franzen is right and you don't know how pleased I feel to find that this man and I think alike.

Recently I was thinking about technology, I think about it a lot which is interesting considering I pretty much hate it (and hypocritical too, considering I use it every day.)

But here's the thing. I was wondering whether technology is the [new] opiate of the masses, in light of the reaction to Steve Jobs dying.

And then, in a collection of essays by Mr F, we have:

... the powerful narcotics that technology offers. (p200, How to Be Alone.)

This was written in 1996. So instead of being edgy and innovative I am simply retreading old ground.

And how much do you love the title? How to Be Alone.

I want to marry him.

17 comments:

Alex said...

I feel I'd like to comment on this, but I don't really know quite what you're getting at.

Are you talking about our increasing obsession with smart-phones, big-screen tellies and the internet or is it more our full-on reliance on things like cars and refrigeration, or are you talking about the whole lot at once, or something completely different?

Do I need to read the book to understand?

Also, considering the level of fawning over the Queen recently, do you reckon some of the Jobs rubbish might've just been about his celebrity? Like I said to Mr E, Dennis Ritchie contributed more to the tech world; but, since he wasn't the face of a trendy corporation, nobody even noticed when he died.

Melbourne Girl said...

I was talking about the increasing obsession with smart phones and social media and relating it to Marx's (?) comment about the opiate of the masses, and making my own connections that while the people have their heads turned elsewhere, stuff is happening and they don't even see it.


It's a loose connection, but it's like Machiavelli said: make people scared and distrusting and you will be able to control them (the "war against terror"). I would add keep the people obsessed with technology and gadgetry and you will keep them distracted and then they won't see all the shifty moves you're pulling.

Sorry I'm not drunk, just rambling a bit.

Melbourne Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

I think I get where you're coming from now.

I got taken out to a pub for the first time in years a little while ago and was amazed that everybody in the place (with the exception of a few lads who were desperately trying to score a root) spent the entire night quietly getting pissed and playing with their phones.

On the other hand, I think there's a chance that you're making it sound a bit too conspiratorial. I had a read of Lindsay Tanner's book on the weekend, and it seems to be positing that it's the masses who actively pursue distraction; ie: if it wasn't the tech, then it'd be rubbish television or celebrity gossip or some other shite. Or, to put it another way, maybe the tech is such a big deal because it's the vehicle that gives people instant, mobile access to such a smorgasbord of distractions. The perfect tool to avoid having to think too hard or too seriously.

Of course, that's not what thoughtful folks like you and me are all about, eh? What d'ya reckon?

Melbourne Girl said...

You're right it does sound conspiratorial and I don't think it works like that.

But it does work in a government's favour? To have the masses with heads turned, eyes down, brains shut off, mindless?

No it's not me. I got a new phone (hand me down from husband) and it's one of those phones where you can check your emails and after two weeks I was so overloaded and stressed by the traffic I got him to turn it off.

I feel for kids today. Unless they have a fascist mother like me, they can be wired 24/7, they get no break from it, there's no escape. They think they love it but they know no different. It's a constant pounding on their brains and bodily systems, to always be engaged with no quiet down time, pottering or lazing about reading. As soon as someone posts something on facebook etc, everybody's on to it. Blech.

Alex said...

I agree with you on the kids. I spend a lot of time with computers, but the idea of being constantly tethered to a social network seems maddening to me. I look at the kids in my family who are growing up with this stuff and it worries me how very real and important it all is to them; like a sort of warping of reality.

But on the question of how well it plays into the hands of governments, I don't know... The uprisings in the middle east, the riots in London, and the occupy movement* have all been facilitated by this interconnectedness and none of it has been particularly good for government. Remember when one state government (SA?) tried to pass a law (or passed it and it was overturned by the courts or something) that made it illegal to post anonymous political opinion online? If I had to guess, I'd say we're probably going to see a lot more of that kind of thing in the next ten years; probably under the guise of cracking down on cyber-bullying and harassment of kids**.

*I went and had a look at the Occupy Brisbane protests and talked to some of the people there. Nobody seemed to have any real clue what they were doing or what they wanted; nor did they have any real interest in figuring anything out (though one woman was very upset about fluoride in the water). It was just something to do until something else came along. Basically, political activism as a lazy distraction in and of itself. Not good for governments and probably not good for anything.

**After that, I reckon we'll probably see a rise in the popularity of networks such as Freenet. Sadly, this will probably also result in an explosion of child pornography.

Melbourne Girl said...

Yes riots and protests are facilitated but they haven't come into existence with the arrival of social networking. They would have still happened without it, and did. Plus they seem to be the vocal minority, and probably the types of people who use the technology actively and with purpose rather than just mindlessly churning out self-absorbed tweets and watching youtube clips of, well, anything mind-numbing really.

Alex said...

Well, no, obviously rioting and protesting isn't an invention of social media -- but the point is that we've seen some very big and well-organised (hence more effective) ones recently and in that regard I don't think the role of social media can be so easily dismissed.

Also, I think a lot of the people who rioted in London were exactly those kinds of people.

Melbourne Girl said...

There were plenty of well-organised riots and protests throughout history without social media.

I can't remember why we are even on this tangent...

Alex said...

The question of whether an obsession with technology always works to the advantage of governments, right?

The point isn't whether social media is the sole factor in an uprising, if it was a major contributing factor then I would think the answer is no.

Melbourne Girl said...

Social media is just a tool, so I don't think we can say that it is a major factor. I don't think so anyway.

Another thought: social media actually would NOT play into government interests of keeping people 'anaesthetised' because of the way everyday citizens can disseminate news and spread information. So now I'm arguing against my own point.

What I was trying to say was that for every person who uses social media in perhaps an 'active' way, ie for creating and spreading 'useful' information (and I know that's an arguable term) there are 100 using it for much smaller reasons and those are the people who are the masses I'm talking about.

But then maybe you could say with or without technology those people have always been like that and always will, ie disengaged with the world and just doodling their lives away.

Alex said...

Lots of things can be thrown into the "tool" category or be described as "just making things faster and easier", but I don't think that's a reason to downplay their significance. I don't think it's fair to dismiss what cars and planes have meant to us because even without them we could have travelled just fine with horses and boats. Intercontinental travel wasn't invented with the aeroplane, but many people now make trips that they wouldn't have bothered making if they had to go by ship -- and there are real, significant consequences to that.

Also, I don't know if there's such a clear distinction between active and productive use and wasteful distraction based use. I think there's a very ugly grey area that's growing all the time. I mean, how often do you see support for some important cause or rage against some dire injustice flare up and then fizzle away because everyone just lost interest and moved on to something else? I see emails and Facebook invites all the time that are about red-carpet treatment of asylum-seekers or how the earth is cooling or the pokie-tax and I know the people who are into these things can't be seriously engaged because they're not even concerned about where the information comes from. My best guess is that they just dig the idea of being part of an angry mob -- at least until they get bored. And the worst bit is how all these short attention spans seem to be allowing people to get away with obvious contradictions, inconsistencies and nonsense without too many people (including the news media) appearing to notice.

It'd all be kind of morbidly funny if it wasn't for the fact that this stuff can seriously affect the way people vote, and thus, how political parties shape their policies. Again, the spreading of propaganda and misinformation was not invented on the internet, the question is how much faster and more effective it has become because of this new "tool". It's the difference between having Alan Jones feed you a line of shit and having Alan Jones feed you a line of shit which is then instantly reinforced by thousands of your Facebook mates. Scary, no?

Melbourne Girl said...

Okay let's break it down. I meant gadgetry, not technology. I know progress has been amazing and I'm not saying it shouldn't have happened.

I guess it's just about me hating the gadgetry. Passing people at tram stops, they are all looking down at screens. Ears blocked with headphones. The screens are screening people from what's in front of their noses. Tourists with cameras and camcorders are the same; they don't take the fucking things away from their eyes and look around. It's all about recording the moment, rather than living the moment. And for the people at the tram stop it's all about what? Being connected 24/7? Not missing out on something? Constructing a remote existence where you can just avoid eye contact and then no one will bother you?

It's clear I don't like this sort of stuff, and maybe you do, and don't see any harm in it. And that's cool.

Do you know anything about dyeing pubic hair?

Alex said...

It's clear I don't like this sort of stuff, and maybe you do, and don't see any harm in it. And that's cool.

Whoa, whoa; most of what I've been ranting about is the harm that it can do. My arguments have been against writing it off as insignificant.

I gave up worrying about my pubic hair. It's not like anyone's going to see it ever again (except a doctor maybe).

Melbourne Girl said...

Hm Alex, how so? I know you are single now (clearly this is what you're saying) but you're not old. Even my mother at 70 has a new beau...

What are you getting at?

Alex said...

Ah, my libido dried up and blew away some time ago. I don't miss it. One less thing to worry about.

You know, I thought there'd be somebody somewhere advertising pubic hair dying, but I can't find anything either. Just a bunch of articles warning of the potential for severe skin irritation.

Melbourne Girl said...

Me too, 'sannoying.