Do we need a contraceptive for the machine [1]? Or "why is everyone smiling?"

IssueMarch - May 2004
Comment by Graham Carey

We receive important personal and social blessings from technology of all kinds, but for a quarter century we have been completely dominated by a seriously unexamined technology of which Sadie Plant (US author of Zeros and Ones, Digital Women and the New Technoculture) has written: “The impossibility of getting a grip, and grasping the changes under way is itself one of the most disturbing effects to emerge from the current mood of cultural change.”

This is compounded by
1) our dumbed down generation, in which the level of general intelligence available to cope with social complexity and technical detail is low; 2) the fact that almost none of the people in political, church and media power have the time or willingness to absorb the excellent but vast eco-journalism and documentation that does exist; 3) dubious industry and government “research”, where immense profits are made from risk-denial and the precautionary principle is abandoned.

Digital detritus

World Out of Control, #2 (WOOC) 2 takes one area of technology - digitalisation 3- and shows how this technology kills us and is unsustainable. Unlike weapons of war, the damage of digitalisation goes largely unnoticed. The 32-page document covers 22 items of concern about the wide-ranging effects of digitalisation, including the following little-known facts and concerns:

  • Each computer takes 6,000 gallons of clean water to manufacture.
  • New technology adds hugely to power needs, creating major supply breakdowns.
  • Computers create more not less inequality according to many commentators.
  • Billions of machines are discarded - there being no low-tech local, simple, self-maintenance or simple spare parts: like nuclear waste, there is no viable disposal solution.
  • Crime: how to police the universalisation of this technology in relation to fraud, privacy invasion, necessary defence secrets, exploitative pornography, medical misinformation, and checks of governmental intrusion on personal freedom?
  • History and public records can be tracelessly re-written.
  • We donate low power machines to Third World recipients but the wealthy and powerful will always invest in the more powerful, will command superior advertising, propaganda and exploitative capability to their advantage. Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Stephanie Mills, Turning Away From Technology, Chet Brown, Let Them Eat Data, Neil Postman and John Zerzan all argue that computerisation is not liberating or democratising but a debilitating and colonising culture.
  • The industry is hostile to trade unions and proper health and safety (see Snitow and Kaufmann's highly praised film Secrets of Silicon Valley).
  • Children's frontal brain lobes and blood brain barriers are weakened by computer games and mobile phones.
  • Millions of degraded and monitored jobs are created as captive workers are slumped passively and irradiated in front of their workstation and call-centre machines.
  • Synergistic effects of the thousands of untested synthetic chemicals involved can never be known or researched.
  • The essentially super hi-tech nature of digitalisation necessarily requires it to be centralised, non-democratic and, under global capitalism, with frequently unaccountable aggressive unethical management.
  • Hundreds of “everyday” industrial technologies from the manufacture of MDF (composite wood boards), GM foods, cosmetics - and even piped water itself - threaten human integrity.


Action or evacuation?

The issues listed above cannot be looked at in isolation. The links are well explored by US eco-authors Wendell and Thomas Berry, and journals such as The Ecologist, and Resurgence.

WOOC proposes a way forward: disconnecting from the machine AND (following Bahro, Henri Bergson and Edward Goldsmith) the cultivation of Bahro's “critical mass” of large “armies” of courageous, well organised, nonviolent and spiritually/religiously orientated eco-warriors 3 to act or at least become evacuated into safer - almost “monastic” style - disciplined, more congenial and co-operative enclaves.

Enclaves doesn't mean reinventing the wheel - WOOC lists several hundred enclaves - including Peace News, Permaculture, and even small-scale projects like Prickly Nut Wood (eco woodland project in southern Britain) - who for the last century have demonstrated sustainable ways of relating to others, of publishing and community life that show the way ahead. A great literature of sustainable know-how exists.

”Evacuation” means moving out of our failed materialist experiment of earth industrialisation, the real threat rather than globalisation which is frequently benign, into more carefully designed and intelligent enclaves. As journalist George Monbiot in the British daily The Guardian points out, unprecedented large numbers of aware anti-globalisation protestors are now on the streets of cities all over the world.

Spiritual inadequacy

Monbiot's sharp insights into the deteriorating situation make his eco-reportage distinguished: however I think there are two limits on Monbiot's interpretation of this phenomena as promising positive change. The first is that he writes from a secular, non-religious point of view; and secondly, the necessary discipline, nonviolence, and resistance to “the world” that is required is such that any non-spiritually based resistance will in my view be inadequate.

Street protests, the smashing of shop fronts, and Marxist-Leninist-like chanting, not only do not win our movement any friends, but do not promote nonviolence and are not part of any lasting, sensible relocation of whatever human life is privileged to outlast the collapse of life as we know it at present.

Though scientists are already designing radical oceanic and outer space devices that might ameliorate the worst effects of global warming, we must not rely upon more industrial technology but rather upon political, religious and cultural innovation that reject wholly materialistic views of human destiny. What is proposed in World Out of Control is neither Luddite, nor doom-laden, but offers an opportunity for hope.

Topics: Technology