Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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> technology : directions : heart

at the heart of this thesis is a young white american male who loves to play around on machines and idealizes forests, and who thinks there's no solution to questions we raise about technology - there's often indistinguishable directions, dreams and delusions.

i used to be a computopiate - thinking machines could do the dumb resource management stuff while we humans did what we're good at. i think more highly of cooking and growing food now, picking out vegetables at the market is important. i'd still prefer to have a machine do my accounting, but i should watch to make decisions there too. hard to lead an examined life lead surrogately by computer.

technology saddens me, for two immediate reasons:

one, environmental; industrialization's scars and ruins surround me wherever i go. the abandoned urban topographies are beautiful as art, or alien landscapes, because they have become so far away. but they still feel like land stolen by arrogant people, because i don't see the desk chairs they once built for schools like mine. machines are easy to blame for these scars, for the power they give individuals to carve their names in the bark for so many years to come (recognizing full well i am a tree carver and industrial-beneficiary myself).

two: diversity, economic and social diversity is not being served by machines, particularly communications machines. alas, technology cannot immediately undo eons of social pathology and fear. at worst, these machines seem to further the calcification of class and race in our society.

out of mexico both environmental disaster and a dearth of diversity combine in the worst ways when i consider lands i do not see, populated by people who do not have web pages; most of the folks responsible for making my computer and my shoelaces and whose forests are cut down so i can eat cheap cheesesteaks. what if technology is mostly the extension of my means (however indirectly) to exploit these people? technology has given those people, and myself, jobs in an increasingly regimented or specific manner of contributing to the technological whole. as i consider whether to unite my body with the technological sublime, their lungs are coated by toxic chemicals left over from the manufacture of my laptop batteries.

and there is something about machines that makes their self-determined farm bulb guyslife obsolete; like the land, and their labour is too precious or too different to be left out of the equasion. or perhaps the soft glow of electricity is too much of a draw - they must join the economy, and they just happen to start out at the bottom of it. this was certainly my experience in Honduras, once they knew it existed, people wanted cable tv. they didn't think or didn't care about the frankly ugly infrastructural changes required to install it - omnipresent asphalt, poles, wires. instead of these things, the Hondurans had mangos and nances literally falling in the streets - ripe fresh juicy fruit; unowned, abundant for the taking.

but perhaps this is not a definite trade as i've outlined here; there are checks and balances on technology. i'm told the east coast has been massively reforested since its most stripped level earlier this century. and there are delightful, if difficult, crosscultural sharings now commonplace in mass media, unimaginable in ages before ours.

so technology is a mixed bag, neither here nor there, a rolling stone with moss; little can be said conclusively about it that can not be easily refuted. my feelings have shifted between radical poles, and i can recognize either in a moment.

electrode! on one hand i can dream and love the idea of chips in my brain to have more knowledge at my command and if i could read my email in the middle of anywhere all the time i probably would. but i don't like microwave foods, they strike me as fake and unnourishing. i use naturalish soap, i hate the filmy residue of most of the "new and improved" stuff. i brush my teeth with gritty toothpaste that lacks the sweetness of most leading consumer brands. i don't have any tattoos or piercings, i like my body looking somehow "pure." i tend to buy natural products, and i love being naked in a forest (if it's not freezing cold, and maybe even then).

there's a tension i somehow daily resolve between cyborgian excess and impossible naturalness. each seems arbitrary when taken on its own; they make sense when combined within me. there's some unique code that i have used to judge my favourites and avoidances, probably influenced by the society around me but similarly, the range of choices is so broad always that people are constantly coding their own nature/technology balance.

technology requires infrastructure, however, and consumes resources. as i board large planes headed on round trips i wonder whether someone is looking out for the purer places where trees or even just scrub run wild and grow and die. and i can't forget for very long that my compulsion to experiment with machines is shared the world over and the world we'll create to sustain that may be uninhabitable, or absolutely unjust.

maybe the world will look like new york and there will be a new jungle, a new forest, of haphazard human design but long since out of our control and so mutated into something we can barely comprehend, let alone live with. and in those futurescapes, cities that never end, rows of endless neon and dark hardnesses, chronicled by the likes of Gibson, Effinger, Sterling, there will be pockets of wildness where creation, unfettered, astonishes, and places where technology is turning to consume what it had long since spit up, and where is has still never been.

maybe that means heading to the sky or the sea. but i imagine that even before those breathtaking vistas; just below the surface of the water staring into the deep blue, or looking back on our planet in perspective with others, unimaginable; even as we ascend into what is now heaven we will drag along with us our wars and our acne.

ebabysit tv i'm unhappy with lazinesses; olestra, electronic babysitting - people would rather use technologies to solve problems than sacrifice anything designed for ease and comfort. doesn't work have its own rewards? aren't the best things difficult? does it become impossible for more conscientious folk to lead difficult lives when others insist on cruise control? or is difficulty always relative?

i say all this from my chair, where i sit a very thin person with the money and the time and disposition to consider technology on my computer, and dream up a healthy lifestyle, unrealistic for many folks, probably even me.

and i have this sense that no amount of comfort increase or speeding of travel or readiness of communications facilitated by technology is going to augment happiness.

the revolution may come if social problems are calcified by technologies, but the technologies will be with us as long as the human race is, and so our only and best hope might be education, or storytelling, but people do that, or don't do that either way

so i do what i can for a better world, i try to be a "conscious consumer," i enjoy my little machines, i spend time with people, i share what i know and i try to listen to what i don't.

the toughest thing about a technology thesis is realizing that there isn't any answer. the problem of technology is as intractable as the problem of faith, or human motivation, or what evil lurks in men's hearts, or structural inequality. there are metaphors we have that are useful in our time, and i have described a few here, but there is no problem and there is no solution. no singularity.

at best communications technologies will unite our knowledge into a quest for humankind's most highest goals; at worst communications technologies will fracture everything into meaningless babble spawning severe violence and more unhappiness. probably both, simultaneously.

so if i was to sum up, i would have to say my conclusions are a collision,

each of the technology directions is at once clear and no more likely than any other. each serves its function.

stasis i recognize - there are tradeoffs, one need only to look for them to find them. bearing stasis in mind is a good technique for maintaining sobriety when something seems either too awesome or too devastating. this applies beyond technology too.

return i hope for at times, there are values, some seems stasis-istic, things that we should always care for. like hand-handled food. or midwives. return is what we bear in mind when we evaluate technologies that replace human functionings.

determinism is the worst of my fears, that the systems embedded in technology are self determining, and i and my race have no free will. it can be a source of its own faith as well, that we are on a road to nowhere, and we needn't even bother steering. i mean, we're always on a road to nowhere, at least we know that technology is the car, the road and maybe the traffic signs. and it's kind of exciting to think about being hardwired into the human network at all times information accessible and virtual worlds simultaneous with the fading real! whee!

utopia is then the direction i head , i envision the ideal so i may know how to choose, for myself, and how i might advise others. of course the computopia, technology appropriate action does not always mesh with humanely appropriate action, so it must be balanced as well.

balance! the middle way! (to where?)
there, that's it, my conclusion. thanks for reading!

index | biblio

technology affects food relationships and death determining potential directions for our society.
 - composition
- pills
diet pills
- distribution 
electronic babysitting fluoridation
technological determinism

thesis biblio
how to read this thesis
process notes