Modernity is the subordination of principle to process. And if man is subordinate to technology, this inversion would signify a negation of life by the very means once intended to serve at its disposal.
Life, however, is anxiety-inducing, and faced with it plainly we tend more and more to retreat instead into life-negating distractions—think of Sartre’s Nausea—which seem to represent more and more of the benefit we now derive from technology, and cannot be separated from whatever ideas, however lofty, which the latest hi-tech media transmit.
When we absorb ourselves in our smartphones, we almost invariably peer down into them. But it is possible to get a seemingly uncanny sense of how ridiculously small (in contrast with the world as we naturally position ourselves to view it) this frame is that sucks in so much of our focus, simply by correcting our posture and holding up our arm to position the phone within the normal, eye-level field of vision. Of course, the attempt at diversion simply cannot be carried out in this way.
The other day I’m out with a friend, when he tells me he needs to pay a cell phone bill, so we duck into a T-Mobile store. While he’s busy with the clerk, I stroll around the place, and it immediately strikes me (I’m probably not the first to say so; I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before) how much these outlets are arranged like art galleries: the displays mounted mid-floor on spray-painted white particleboard pillars, or sequenced along the bleach-white walls in the foreground of splashy, lit-up stock imagery. Next to each phone display is an informational placard. To get the interactive experience you need assistance from an initiate flunky with a lanyard and a thumb drive. Just enough reverence to discourage overthinking is all that’s needed, but when 48% of the market is on public assistance it’s a legacy feature.
As we’re leaving, I remarked to my friend that, just for the hardware, the margin on a lease must be astronomical, considering how low the resale value of a smartphone is. But my friend informs me that, to lower their costs, every time you go in for an upgrade, the retailer more or less sells your old phone back to the OEM, who does a little light refurbishing and then punts these devices in bulk into a developing market—a euphemism for a country where the buildings are still tattered from the last civil war or the peasantry have all been displaced and reduced to hawkers and bricklayers, if they aren’t combing through garbage for a living.
Think about that: every impression of these industries that the public is imbued with is one of buoyancy, bedazzlement and pure intelligence. Meanwhile, these companies are balancing the books with third world fire sales.
I work in IT sales. Not anybody’s dream job, but what can you do? (Ask me about our tower desktops with Windows 7, LMFAO). Among the concepts they beat us over the head with to peddle is virtualization, you can’t sell servers anymore without VM Ware. Again, the impression they want you to have is of buoyancy, bedazzlement and pure intelligence. But somewhere over the rainbow there’s still a fucking server bank and, eventually, the amount of energy it takes for those sleeker, more powerful machines to direct traffic is going to exceed what it takes to run all the bulkier devices they’re replacing today, because we’ve mistaken data for value and elevated our valuation of data to a catechism. And we’d be right but, cui bono? Zuckerberg’s hardly less creepy than One Hour Photo (if you think that’s hyperbole, you have brain parts that aren’t working).
So if man is an intrinsically technological creature, then technology is the one and only factor that enables us to cage animals. If you’re caged, you’re an animal, and a cage is any advantage some shrewd, unscrupulous creature has—some limp-dick sneak fuck who’d be eaten in open combat or humiliated in reproductive competition, and knows it. Basically: usurers, sexual predators and peeping Tom data miners. The cage is technology. Your data trail. The toilet paper stuck under your shoe. That’s our rulers’ source of power; Mark Zuckerberg is a virtual used toilet paper magnate.
We get the micro-managers we deserve, though: behold the Gothic architecture of medieval Europe, and it’s hard to gainsay T.S. Eliot’s estimation of the 13th century as the apex of civilization. What are we missing about those people when we ascribe primitivity to them? Something, I assure you. When in the intervening centuries were the structures they built surpassed for exquisiteness? Hell, the largest solid, unreinforced dome on the planet is still the Pantheon of Rome, completed in 128 AD. Technologically, this edifice remains unimproved upon in 2017.
Kurzweil, Zuckerberg, Musk…. they keep telling, not asking us how we’re going to live in the future. Who’d have thought a few autists with Excel spreadsheets for brains would exceed the imaginations of Hieronymus Bosch and every dystopian fiction author, ever? RFID implants and neural lace make precogs look like deus ex machina. Symbiosis with the internet sounds about as appealing as being strapped down like the protagonist in the closing scene of A Clockwork Orange. And that’s exactly what these control freaks want, because the minute they bet money on their predictions those predictions become a motive in themselves, if they weren’t propaganda to begin with. Tech oligarchs are the ultimate totalitarians, and they’re sold to us as luminaries! In a civilization whose denizens possessed a shadow of a survival instinct they’d be fed to orcas at SeaWorld on national television.
And yet the technologies they mean to imprison us with are so…. crude. Internet traffic runs through transoceanic cables the way the telegraph did at the close of the horse and buggy era. When 5G comes online it will require a massive new infrastructure that can be traced, ultimately, to a surge protector in a wall outlet. And when these batty, syphilitic billionaires and virginal, glorified sysadmins tell us about the singularity, they’re talking about an autonomic simulacrum of the übermensch, what VR masturbation is to hot, sticky sex. We’re moving backwards, not forwards. Wireless signaling, photography, the combustion engine, conventional aircraft, even rocketry—none of these is fundamentally different today than they were at inception, they’re just spiffier. Granted, there are still actual and theoretical game changers: anti-gravity, fusion, quantum, nanotech, AI, genetic engineering. But do any of these developments portend spiritual or intellectual advancement? Of course not—on the contrary. Mankind is the only known species capable of true (i.e., conscientious) cruelty, and we can’t even eradicate the mosquito without taking ourselves out with it. Measured in terms of the ratio of arithmetical figuring to grandiosity of outcome, the capacity to immolate half the solar system remains our greatest technological achievement—our greatest achievement, period, if the technological inclination is our foremost distinction as creatures. Maybe it isn’t, though. Maybe inventiveness and creativity are distinct sides of the same coin. Maybe these improvements aren’t just risky, but unnecessary, enabling aggressive tendencies at the expense of traditional wisdom. Prime example: the Elon Musks of the world keep telling us they’re inevitable and we may as well make the best of it. Sounds rapey, doesn’t it? Kind of like how voting is conflated with choice.
Either way, craftmanship isn’t what it used to be—at least Patrick Bateman used his hands.