On Media

Accelerating Technology and the Social - 10/28/19

To paraphrase McLuhan, new technologies are a surgery on the social body that has no regard for antiseptics (and, in this case, anesthetics). This holds most true in a rabidly capitalist society in which commodification and monetization drive everything downward toward the consumer base, the masses, to attain profit as quick as possible.

It seems too much to ask that a corporation or engineer questions the implications of their work at large— their job and their desire is to work. Bureaucratic clog will only delay their compensation, and would likely be completely ineffective.

It’s the circumstances around them, around which they need to shape their work, that facilitate the excess of new technologies. The commodification must take place, because the commodification of your work is the measure of its impact, and it’s impact is inextricable from its perceived success. The impulse of ingenuity is toward impact— toward being a crucial link in the chain out of reverence for the chain itself. This is the internal, eternal capitalist impulse that drives the world. Even the staunchest communists seek influence, seek cultural capital, and desire success, because anything else is stasis or failure— both unsustainable states of existence.

Margaret Mead said in an issue of Time (1954): “there are too many complaints about society having to move too fast to keep up with the machine. There is great advantage in moving fast if you move completely, if social, educational, and recreational changes keep pace. You must change the whole pattern at once and the whole group together— and the people themselves must decide to move.”

Today there is less and less synchronization of change.

Minor discrepancies in progress between social, educational and recreational developments are, at the current scale, blatantly apparent.

What happens when people can’t keep up, and the only result is a state of constant anxiety and discomfort in a perpetually unfamiliar world, where the models of our parents and those who came before have increasing irrelevance and dissimilarity to our own? Where any familiar way of being is usurped by some new technology, some new terror, unprecedented market changes and economic conditions? Where there is no place to settle into because the soil incessantly churning? How will we organize ourselves then? Or will large-scale organization become less relevant, less possible, until it finally ceases to characterize our social structure (or lack thereof)? When usurpation becomes the defining trait of technological life, and we must schizophrenically adapt to urgency and instability, what then?