Technoblatherismby Gerard Van der Leun (repurposed with permission of the author)
OverspewIn this besotted age of unremitting technological spasms, we all struggle to maintain our consciousness, social position, phony-baloney jobs and inadequate incomes through rigidly researched and needlessly reiterated blather. The Ponzi schemes that unfold each day in communications and computing can be numbing yet personally enriching -- which is why we need to pay attention to who's got the honey pot. One understandable reaction is to blather: "Are these changes good, bad, or profitable? Should we sell out or buy in?"
The answer is "Both, frequently, and there is no end of opportunity." Hypnotic technologies, such as voice mail, feature-glutted and overpriced software, fertility drugs, boner pills, Spam, genetic engineering, Gameboy, cruise missiles, and Roofies are making dating and life itself more convenient and enjoyable, and many white people in San Jose, New York, Boston, Washington, Seattle, Bern and the Grand Cayman Islands healthier, wealthier, and wiser. So get yours now while the getting is good. Technology is also working hard at trivializing work, atomizing families, and puffing up the economy in utterly predictable ways. Our cool new technologies are also reintroducing every single day age old forms of muscular tension, wrist damage, sight impairment, mental distraction, goofing off, and spiritual and physical masturbation. You also get useless gadgets you just gotta have to organize a life that has no purpose beyond the next meeting, phone conference, and luncheon. Tech has made you your own focus group, so get used to it.
Yes, technology, which is second only in the Pantheon of the Gods to the Stock Market, is also giving us large groups of smart people that produce nothing except total-loss business plans and endless position papers on gossamer issues with no pith nor passion at all and even less insight. At the same time all this gaga technology worship is fortunately posing new threats to the cohesion of our physical communities (which we don't really care about all that much in the first place, except when the Prez blows into town for a nationally televised wonk parade.)
Clearly, our current wave of way-cool high-tech technology is a global daisy chain into which we all feel the urge to merge. This group chooses, as its method of cutting in line, to blather. For this we have assembled a star-class group of blatherers who in but the very recent past would have been doomed to writing press releases for Citicorp, but who now have a whole new gig: "technology criticism" (aka 'technocrit' because it just sounds so cutting edge we can't stand it) .
Despite the ridiculously complicated and consistently contradictory implications of technology, the conventional wisdom is as woefully simplistic and shortsighted as this manifesto. Pundits, politicians, and self-appointed visionaries such as ourselves get lots of exposure when they reduce these complexities to breathless tales of either high-tech doom or cyber-elation, or talk about the evils of doing the same thing, or indeed talk about how it really isn't that way at all. We are the first bi-textual critics. Our cups runneth over and our motto is:
Technocrit: since nobody knows what it is, anybody can do it.
In any case, "technocrit" is the perfect literary endeavor for the D'Oh Decade. It is the kind of mind-pabulum that our media machines love to pump into the endless slots on all-news-all-the-time-whether-you-need-it-or-not networks. Such emissions lead to dashed hopes, unnecessary snack food binges, outbreaks of corporate memo writing, and email lists where we all get to trot out our baggy-assed insights as much as we want. This prevents us from understanding our own culture, which is probably a good thing since if we were to understand our present-day culture as it really is we would loathe it much more than we already do. But our insights' primary function is to keep us from noticing that far-out is not in-deep. This is a very relaxing situation.
Over the past few years, even as the mind-numbing debate over technology has been rammed down the throats of millions who really couldn't care less, and has been characterized as "dominated by the louder voices at the extremes" (in order to give it some sort of news hook), a new, more balanced consensus has quietly taken shape in the boardrooms, educational institutions, and policy wonktanks that seek to profit from the whole high-tech cheese platter. This document, one of at least six billion similar paeans for moderation on critical issues from artificial anthrax to zippy-the-pinhead seeks to blather on about some of the shared beliefs, values, and needs for funding, fees, and book advances behind that consensus, which we have come to call "technoblatherism."
Technoblatherism is as harsh a mistress as the moon. It demands that we think and write superficially at paralytic length about the role that technofools and interface-obsessed individuals think they play in human evolution and everyday life. Integral to this perspective is our observation that the current tide of technological transformation, while relatively unimportant and irrelevant in a world awash with starvation, ignorance, disappearing environments and species, nasty and unstoppable "ethnic conflicts" human greed, hate, and the unrestrained selfishness that is known as the free market system, is actually a ripple on the oceans of change that have taken place throughout history but still seems mighty big to those of us bobbing here in the trough.
Looking, for example, at the history of the automobile, television, or the telephone -- not just the devices but the banal institutions they became -- we see profound benefits as well as substantial costs. (And hope that you'll fail to notice what a cliche that one really is as well as how ignorant of history it reveals itself to be. It is the glory of technoblather that once we get you nodding over the glass like the drinking bird you won't really think about what you are reading. Indeed, we are counting on the fact that you'll probably just scan this bit of blather and we'll get away with this one Scot free. )
Similarly, we anticipate mixed blessings from today's emerging technologies (If you are paying attention, that's cliched statement number 14, but you're just scanning so what do we care?), and expect to forever be on guard for unexpected consequences -- which must be addressed by thoughtful design and appropriate use. (We put that in because we hear it a lot on CSPAN.)
As technoblatherists, we seek to plant the seeds of Morpheus and batten off the fertile middle ground between techno-utopianism and neo-Luddism by getting the kind of deal and book tour Esther Dyson got for her recycled quickie. We are technology "critics" in the same way, and for the same reasons, that others are food critics, art critics, or literary critics. Utter unemployability. First of all, we can't think of anything else to do and, second, because we can spew out any old thing and get it sucked up by credulous editors as well as harassed television producers frantic to fill 2 minutes at 4:18 AM. We do not have to discuss the Good, the Beautiful, or whether or not something is True. We only need to converse.
In addition, we can be passionately optimistic about some technologies, skeptical and disdainful of others and nobody will really be able to tell if we're right, wrong or just blathering. Still, our goal is neither to champion nor dismiss technology but to blather. We do not want our blather to have any real position, but rather to apply it in a manner more consistent with basic corporate values, and whichever way the wind seems to be breaking in Washington.
Below are some devolving basic principles that help explain technoblatherism in greater detail that you ever thought possible. Internalizing them will allow you to give keynote addresses to Intel's stockholders meeting. So chug a triple espresso and try to make it through the night. Remember, as a wise man once said, "once you believe you are sincere the rest is easy." With a little effort you may even fool yourself.
Principles of Technoblatherism
- Technologies are Switzerland.
A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies are either free of bias or have no bias. That's because in this age of moral relativism nobody, but nobody, who values his or her chances to own a Porsche and a second home wants to take a stand, one way or another, on anything. The smart money in this day and age waffles on everything and doesn't talk hard truths about real issues unless they are a professional comedian and allowed, like the motley fools of old, to speak truth in front of the Kings of Capital. We're certainly not going to risk our butts by shoveling seaweed against that tide, especially over a silly issue like technology.
Far be it from us to say that technology (especially the kind that keep tech stocks hopping and the stock market popping by promoting large amounts of time wasting "searching," porn surfing, inane email notes and generally turning most people into their own overworked secretaries) is a bad thing. Nope. You didn't read that here.
On the other hand, tech is way-cool and let us tell you about our grandchildren's Palm Pilots.
On our third hand, technologies come loaded like sleazy dice with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings which are really hard to write about in a way that you'll agree with so we'll just pass on by saying: "Every tool provides its fools with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others." Memorize that because it will be an answer to a question on your next Microsoft job interview right after the urine and blood tests -- which will give your employers a particular way of seeing into your world and your interactions with others. It is important for each of us to consider the biases of various technology corporations and toady to those that reflect our cash-flow needs and aspirations to positions of influence over our fellow man. And we hope to do this without alienating anyone and to keep the cards, letters, and offers coming in. For this reason, we hold that technology is not something about which you can say: "Rules? In a knife fight?" but rather, "Technology is as threatening as Switzerland."
- The Internet is naturally Dystopian in both design and effect.
The Net is an extraordinary method for promulgating communications drool. As such it provides a range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and government to blather and goof-off without ever having to get anything done in the real world. It is a global Congressional committee with 150 million members. It also provides large numbers of people who were once thought of as kooks who couldn't get a job in the Circus the ability to spout absolute nonsense and get taken really, really seriously. On the Internet we are truly all Drudgers. And as Technoblatherists, we revel in this.
Yet as cyberspace becomes more polluted, it increasingly resembles society at large, in all its inane complexity -- except for the fact that you don't really have to deal with this "society," you can just disconnect at anytime you want, and don't you wish your jobs, bills, obligations and relationships were like that? For every single empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there will also be at the very least 10,000 dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather ordinary, but all of which can blather with the best. So point, click, cut, paste, send and scan. Do your part in doing nothing. A nation in deep denial needs you. Scan more, comprehend less.
- Government has as an important role to play on the electronic frontier: it needs to butt in, slow down, control, roll out the pork barrel, give Al Gore something to do with his time in the White House waiting room, seek out the pedophiles among us, pry into your private life, suck up to big business and, in general, really fuck things up.
Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth, only most of its inhabitants. In fact, we note that the whole notion came from a pretty-good but fictitious science fiction novel and was promulgated by aging hippies for whom all of life these days is pretty much of an LSD flashback.
While governments should respect the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online. To begin with, if it moves over modems, tax it. If it is personal information, put it in a public database. If it is in code, crack it. If it is porn, print it out and pass it around in the Senate so everyone can get a good look. As the representative of rich families and companies and the guardian of Harvard Business School values, the state has a compulsion to integrate cyberspace and conventional society by keying all an individual's online activity to their social security number and sending 10% of each citizen's after-tax income to Microsoft.
Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Jesse Helms, Bill Clinton and all state and local governments need to have a say. Competing software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network, but what the hell. Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the public interest. Why they should we don't know, but it sounds good.
- Information is not knowledge, but who knew?
All around us, information is moving faster and becoming cheaper to acquire, and the benefits are manifest. With email you can get every get-rich quick offer ever invented. Twice a day! With Usenet you can acquire 2 gigabytes of porn a day without ever having to spend a penny. With the World Wide Web you can have bad design, bad news, and bad writing delivered into your brain with a backhoe.
That said, the proliferation of data is also a serious challenge to sanity, requiring new measures of human discipline to ignore. We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing 800 light bulb jokes quickly with the more daunting task of converting them into knowledge and wisdom. Wow, that would be a big job and require us to leave our monitors and get some real experience in the real world. Boring. Please pass the clue bong. Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we should never use them as a substitute for our own basic cognitive skills of awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. For that we already have television.
- Wiring the schools will not save them and has the added advantage of keeping us from spending real money and time to fix them.
The problems with America's public schools -- stupid teachers, dumber students, planned under-funding, social triage, bloated class size, buildings without roofs, automatic weapons, lack of standards, self-esteem seminars, and cafeteria food -- all trace their roots to previous efforts to introduce the technology-du-jour into the school system.
Consequently, this technology will be no different and will continue the educational disaster created and sustained by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. The art of teaching cannot be replicated by computers, the Net, or by "distance learning," but is so much cheaper that it is sure to be funded -- so send those "essential study proposals" in while they're handing out the grants. These grants can, of course, augment an already high-quality consulting income. But to rely on them alone as a means to purchasing a seaside second home in Hawaii would be to remain boatless in a yachting community.
- Information wants to be cut-and-pasted.
It's true that cyberspace and other recent developments are really fucking with our copyright laws and frameworks for protecting intellectual property, not to mention the fact that it can remove intellect from property at a rate previously only dreamed possible. Although the ultimate answer will be to scrap existing statutes and principles, we can't really say that here without damaging the career paths of a million policy wonks. Instead, we must -- as our charter dictates -- blather on about updating old laws and interpretations so that information receives roughly the same protection it did in the context of old media until the horse is out of the barn and across the meadow and those who battened off of the old copyright laws are really, really screwed.
Our goal as Technoblatherists is to distract authors/owners into believing they really have sufficient control over their work so that they have an incentive to create without realizing how badly they are being ripped-off. We are also hard at work maintaining the right of the public to rip-off information at will and in mass quantities.
- The public has for decades been conned into thinking that it actually owns the airwaves; the public should be allowed to continue in this delusion for as long as possible.
The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters didn't just happen but merely extended a long run of exploitation and connivance between big business and big government at the expense of a clueless public. The formula is simple: They get billions, you get MTV. This is a gravy train that nobody wants to stop. The giveaway underscored the corrupt and inefficient misuse of public resources that is traditional in the arena of technology.
The citizenry must be kept clueless about the real profits from the use of public frequencies through weapons of mass distraction by keeping as small a sliver of the spectrum as possible for the "showmedia" of educational, cultural, and public access uses. We should demand more for private use of public property, but at the same time understand that it just ain't gonna happen.
- Understanding technology should be an essential requirement of global citizenship or you don't get no T-1 access or a free T-Shirt with the Windows 98 logo on it. Yes, there are rules. No, you are not allowed to know them.
In a world slogging through a turbid flow of information for reasons that nobody really understands, the bad interfaces -- and the underlying bug-ridden code -- that make information far too visible are becoming enormously enervating social forces. Promulgating this stuff as quickly as possible keeps the souls of the world fat, happy, barefoot and pregnant. Such a deal.
By helping this elitist white-guy/gal movement move ever forward, by becoming a Technoblatherist and participating in the creation of the ever expanding pool of Internet fools, you too can get your piece of the action. Remember that the fools who think they need the Net have immense purchasing power and offer a lot of income enhancing potential. We should subject them to the same marketing scrutiny as the great blatherists who brought us the War on Drugs and George Magazine.
We don't know about you but we're setting blather-phasers to numb, strapping on our surge protectors, and jacking-in to gravytrain.com.
You can join the Blatherhood by emailing Gerard Van der Leun at:
Back to EGR HomePage