Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dangers of Technology

Despite writing a blog, I am something of a technosceptic, even (in my darker moments) a technophobe. I see great dangers in the advance of technology and the ever-increasing power of computers.

I was going through some of my old notebooks today and I was both amused and intrigued to find a list of the disadvantages, as I perceive them, of technological advance. I think I wrote it as ammunition for the next time I found myself embroiled in a debate on this subject.

I present the list as I found it, since I think it makes more sense in an unvarnished state. My feelings of alarm at technology (and those of many others, I guess) are rather inchoate, disconnected and often apparently trivial; I think admitting this might be both more honest and more effective than putting on a show of deep reflection. I tried to avoid the obvious.

So here goes...

Reasons to Resent Technology:

1) As C.S. Lewis says, it annihilates space. And time, too. In the form of ever-faster transport, immediate communication. It took a week for news of Trafalgar to reach England. That diminished the dramatic possibilities of life.
2) It does away with the precious cycles and rhythms of life. Twenty-four hour television. Night-time abolished by electric light.
3) When there are cameras everywhere, and everything is recorded, less and less is left to the imagination. We have no video of Pearse's speech from the dock, thank goodness. We have no recordings of Byron's voice.
4) It pushes back the terra incognita of Earth constantly-- especially that of the ocean.
5) It drains character from life. A typed and printed memo doesn't have the same personal idiosyncracy of handwritten letters-- the wobbles, curlicues etc.
6) First vinyl LPs became CDs, with tiny sleeves, then the entire artefact of the album disappeared in favour of audio downloads. The artistic unity of the album is lost, people download selected tracks and play them out of order on MP3 shuffle.
7) You can watch a movie trailer on the internet and don't have to go to the cinema to see it. You lose the crazy dedication of people who would do that.
8) Reference books lose their value and prestige. Why look up a dictionary or an encyclopedia when you can check the internet?
9) Automatic doors reduce the potential for chivalry and courtesy.
10) The range of possible stories becomes contracted; you can no longer have a group of characters trapped in a cellar or a warehouse, since one of them is bound to have a mobile phone. You need some further explanation of why Uncle Bob was unable to contact his nephew for two days and was never told about the accident.
11) Hypertext takes away the deliciously self-contained atmosphere of a piece of writing. No text is an island anymore.
12) Everything is integrated and one-stop; your phone is your clock and your computer and your stereo and your book. The diversity of things is reduced.
13) Silence is rarer than ever, with the hum of machines all around.
14) Everything is challenged all the time. Instead of a debate between correspondents, for instance in a series of articles and letters, you get a firestorm of point-scoring on an internet forum, with the debate inevitably being dragged to the lowest level, since nobody is willing to make allowances of be gracious-- since every concession will be taken advantage of and every generalisation will be corrected by some wiseacre. Anonymity creates venom.
15) Digital TV and the internet means that all signals can be received everywhere and TV becomes less of a determinant of local and national character. The viewing audience becomes balkanized in a bad way.
16) The charms of misquotation become less frequent.
17) There is a general increase in garishness. The glow of computer monitors, the ear-aching volume of radios and TVs and boomboxes (or even just CD players), the kinetic advertisements in the Tube and elsewhere, the plasma screens in streets and in shop windows, etc. Previous examples of this, like the screen in Trafalgar Square, lose their specialness.
18) As technologies become more sophisticated, the character- and atmosphere-giving flaws become lost-- like the crackle on radio, the lines on old TV, and the sepia in old photographs.

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