I’m no diehard technophile. My relationship with technology is rather more ambivalent. But, of course, by saying this I am basically saying that my relationship with myself is ambivalent. Like it or not, I am plugged in. From the electric light to the internets, “I” exist as part of techno-matrix. As media theorist Marshall Mcluhan would have it, technology is any extension of ourselves. And it is Mcluhan that I would like to marshall. Because I am fed up with a broken record that has been playing in my Culture class for the past two weeks.
It goes a little something like this: 1) the prof brings up the pervasiveness of the internet; 2) one of several students raises his-her hand and whines about how facebook and paypal destroy relationships because they take away “face-to-face” interaction and replace it with selfishness and isolation; 3) Another student retorts that we can’t judge a technology as inherently good or evil, but we must instead evaluate how people use technology.
I would deploy Mcluhan’s thought against both positions. To the technophobes:
The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts, but alter sense rations or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance (Understanding Media, 33).
It doesn’t matter if you don’t join facebook. The medium of the internet has already altered our patterns of perception whether you like it or not. The information superhighway exists and it has radically transformed the texture of society. You will have to find another response besides “head in the sand.”
To the technophiles:
Whether the light is being used for brain surgery or night baseball is a matter of indifference. It could be argued that these activities are in some way the ‘content’ of the electric light, since they could not exist without the electric light. This fact merely underlines the point that ‘the medium is the message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action (Understanding Media 24).
Yes, what you do with a technology matters. But technologies can and must be judged in and of themselves, as each directly and uniquely effects human relations. This does not mean that we make blanket statements about a certain technology (e.g. “roombas are pure evil”). But it does mean that we evaluate the effects of a technology itself on the structure of human relations, instead of focusing solely on the human agents using (being used by) the technology.
I just had to throw this all out into the ether. And thanks to medium of the internet this is something that I know I can do. Are there any thoughts that will come back through the ether in response?