Who’s In Charge — Them Or Us?

18 Jun

This is the second blogging site I have opened in less than a week. It might be some kind of record. Scrapheapstuart has already been supplanted by scapheapstuart 2. Why, you may ask? Is this egotism gone mad? Well, the simple reason is that I have been prevented from entering my own blogging site. I type in my Username, chosen by yours truly and carefully  recorded, but the computer tells me it is an “invalid” name and bars my entry. I try several variations but to no avail. The machine is in charge. No matter how hard I try to circumvent the website’s blocking mechanism, I, the human being, have to admit defeat. It’s like arriving home and finding that a robot is stopping me from getting through the door, claiming I don’t live there even though I know I do. Surely this is not supposed to happen! We humans are supposed to be in charge of the machines, not the other way round.

The website has no facility for me to actually speak to another real person about the problem. So I’ve been thwarted and frustrated by the very machine that was invented to serve me. The only solution was to open a new email account and then re-register with WordPress.com with a 2 added to my original blogging name. Thus “scrapheapstuart2” has been born, to replace its shortlived predecessor that still lives on in cyber-space but is forever unreachable.

As it happens, this is one of my favourite rants. That is — the ups and downs of living in the age of rampant technology. Technological and scientific advances have changed the world beyond recognition since I was born back in 1949, and the pace of change is accelerating at a bewildering rate. Many of these advances have greatly enhanced our lives, whether they be in medicine, communication, entertainment or countless other areas. You don’t need me to list them all. However, I would challenge the notion that all technology is for the good. Nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations that go into meltdown are just obvious cases in point. Ask the Japanese, who suffered terribly both in 1945 and earlier this year. We now have the power to obliterate our own planet at the whim of a “mad” politician or a “misguided” terrorist .

On a more mundane day to day level, it seems that machines and gadgets such as : computers, mobiles, smartphones, Kindles. ipods,ipads etc are taking over our lives. They are swamping us just as the tsunami swamped the Japanese nuclear power stations. Through the belief that we HAVE to HAVE all these things, that they are essentials rather than luxuries, we have allowed these contraptions to control us rather than vice versa.

Technology is worshipped in our society. Machines have become our new gods. As conventional religion declines and churches limp on with dwindling and ageing congregations, the vacuum is filled by the need to own a whole range of technological gadgets. The purpose of life for many seems to be to possess bigger and better material things, rather than say, to help others, or to develop as a person, or to follow a spiritual path. On top of this is the decline of the idea of patience and of delayed gratification , which I taught my children and all my school pupils over the years. It has now been replaced with the DEMAND for instant gratification. ” I want it , and I want it NOW!” Thus we now have the instant ( and sometimes illegal) download, rather than patiently saving up to eventually purchase the CD, DVD or book at something called a shop.

Obviously, all this materialistic “wanting” is relentlessly driven by capitalism, which insists that we constantly consume so that the producers can make a lot of money. All pervasive advertising and marketing techniques ( otherwise know as “brainwashing”) persuade us that we want and have to acquire many things that we don’t actually need. In other words, many of us have become prisoners of our own technology. We are addicted to the TV, the Internet, to Smartphones and the like as if they are hard drugs. We cannot live without them ( or we think we can’t.) When we are denied our “fix” we suffer from withdrawel symptoms. I met a friend recently who was suffering terribly because he was not connected to the Internet. ( He has moved to a new estate which had not been cabled up yet.) Yet merely 10 to 15 years ago, most of us lived quite happily without it. When I speak to my parents, both born in the 1920’s, their faces glaze over whenever I mention computers. They have no interest in that “alien” subject and simply do not take anything in. Computers have never been directly a part of their everyday lives and never will be. It is too late for them to change. However, they still somehow manage to lead a full and happy life without having to be constantly linked to the Worldwide Web, and they can still navigate themselves from A to B without the aid of sattelite signals from space. They, like me, still find out information from books and use something called a map to find their way rather than being instructed by a disembodied voice. In some ways, people of my parents’ generation are the lucky ones, because they have not become slaves of technology. Neither are they interested in the game of oneupmanship, which the marketing men love us to play.

OK, I am 61, getting stuck in my ways and ideas, and resisting change for the sake of change. I am fast developing into a “grumpy old man” I’m proud to say. But I still believe I have a valid point. What is in operation here, I believe, is the concept of F.O.M.O.  I heard this acronym on the media for the first time this week. It is supposed to be a new and growing phenomenum, except it is really a very old one. F.O.M.O stands for “Fear Of Missing Out”. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s we used to call it:”keeping up with the Jones’s .”The difference is that back then it was washing-machines, vacuum cleaners, refridgerators  — and cars, whereas now it is the latest generation of mobile and their array of apps, the latest Laptop, the latest games console, or the most recent ipod or ipad — and cars! I confess to owning a Sky TV , mainly so I can feed my sport addiction.  Not content with me upgrading to Sky+ and Sky HD ( as I recently did), they are now screaming at me to get Sky3D, or Sky Anytime or Sky Multi-Room! The demands to keep up with the pace of technological advance are unremitting.

What a state to get into — being ruled by fear of missing out and being controlled by machines and the need to acquire them. This used to be the stuff of science fiction novels. I rail against it but am simultaneously sucked into it and/or swept along by it. Trying to resist it will have the same result as King Canute trying to keep back the tide. ( He knew he was powerless to do so.)  Yes, I go along with it, even to the extent of  putting my rambling thoughts into cyber-space to be read by unknown others. What an absurd idea — writing to nobody!  Yes, I succumb to it, as why else would I waste 2 hours of my precious time trying to outwit a website that won’t let me do what I want to do? I created the key but the machine hid it away!

I now have a great sympathy with the Luddites, the 18th-19th century machine- smashers. They fought against the machines that were taking away their livelihoods. Maybe we should follow their lead, and fight against the machines that are taking over our lives. Who’s in charge — Them or Us?

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6 Responses to “Who’s In Charge — Them Or Us?”

  1. Vic Millard June 19, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Umm…..valid points aplenty mon brave.However there must have been a time when certain people ranted and raved about this new fangled thing called”a book”.I would just like one decent tv channel but I am sure my taste is not your taste in programmes.Hence infinite channels.And it is good to carry your music collection with you at all times,just,as you hint,do not get over attached to it.I just want to know where the apostrophe is on my computer!That is stressful.

    • scrapstu1949 July 14, 2011 at 10:09 am #

      Point taken Vic. i think I just wanted to get a debate going and did not really mean to say that ALL technology is bad. I think it’s more to do with how some people have allowed it to dominate their lives. For instance i have just spent a week with all 3 of Chris’s children ( all in their 20’s and 30’s ) and they are attached to their laptops as it they are umbilical cords. That is when there cellnets or Blackberries are not ringing or beeping. Thanks for reading and commenting. — Stuart.

  2. scapheapstuartMr Stuart Bates June 27, 2011 at 12:49 am #

    It was all my fault afterall. I’d inadvertedly called myself stuartscapheap — missing outthe r. So the machine was right all along!

  3. Catherine Bates June 27, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Hi dad, this is very well written. It is funny that you are ranting against technology IN A BLOG – but you do point out the irony….I feel a bit responsible since I recommended you start the blog! And now you can get on scapheapstuart…so all is good, with two blogs! As usual, I cannot be so certain about either celebrating or denigrating technology. There is a way that for me personally it can consitute a big distraction – it sucks the time I could be spending, reading, tidying, making things, writing letters, working. On the other hand, it increases who I can communicate with and how – seeing Jo, Al and the girls, and my friend Edel in Spain, through Skype is amazing – my ex-supervisor Lynette has started to use Skype for teaching, and we used similar technology for my PhD oral examination so that I could have the most suitable external examiner. On a larger political level, of course, social networking sites have been instrumental in undermining authoratarian regimes, giving people a way communicate en masse and become mobilised more quickly. This has to be seen as a good thing. I suppose it is all in the way technology is conceptualised and utilised – Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno had this argument earlier this century, in relation to the way art and culture is communicated and made accessible. Benjamin argued that technology is, overall, a good thing, making cultural products such as film available to the masses (and enabling prints and photographs of artwork to make art accessible to more than those who can afford to go and see it). Adorno worried about the capitalist machine, and argued the films that were being made were not helping the masses become revolutionary but were instead working as part of the capitalist project to lull people into consuming mass-produced pieces of entertainment so that they did not register that they were being exploited by the system. I can see both sides – but it is interesting to note they were having this debate about technology in the ’40s and ’50s. One of the problems about technology, for me, relates to what you were discussing, though – it is bad when it becomes a way to exclude people who cannot afford the latest gadgets. For example, on the one hand, the internet can be a good thing for helping people pay bills more quickly and conveniently; but, it can be a disadvantage if you cannot access it and you are with a company who give a discounted rate to those paying online.

    So, overall, I would have to say that I am too converted to the new technologies to feel as though I can rant against them. I like communicating with friends and family on Facebook, I appreciate the way FB and Twitter have become a way for ordinary people to undermine authoritative regimes, I am all for the way technology can be used to make cultural products available to more people (for example, the British Library has recently agreed to make more of its collection available on Google, which will make it less of an elitest institution – this feels like a similar step to the one at the end of the 19th century when ‘ordinary’ people were allowed into the British Museum). But I am scared by the way it has made overall destruction more possible (I was brought up by you, after all, and remain firmly against nuclear technology), and I feel its invasive sometimes as a very negative phenomenon. I do wonder, though, at upholding a solid binary between nature and technology, humans and machines. In the ’80s a philosophy called Donna Haraway wrote an influential essay called ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’. She discusses the problems with setting up humankind as the opposite to machines. Her ideas are complex but very interesting. You might be interested in the Wikipedia entry on her (which does provide a very good summary) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donna_Haraway

    anyway, good to read it and it got me thinking!

  4. Catherine Bates July 13, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

    Before I write a long comment again, just for it to disappear into the ether, I will write this tester one. This tester one.

    • scrapstu1949 July 14, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      The test is over. Which Flaming Lips album is that a quote from?

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