Issue 32 / October - December 2000
The Impact of Electronic Media
Plato (d. c.348 BC) described a cave in which people live like prisoners, stuck with the physical objects surrounding them: what they saw, heard, and experiencedâwhat we call the visible world. Since his time, discoveries and inventions have led to many new amenities. But there is a hard question to answer: Are we still in our caves or have we been freed?
I would like to focus briefly on the twentieth century in terms of technological innovations and their impact on the human soul. The Industrial Revolution radically changed our traditional lifestyle. Modern technology engendered many improvements in such areas as production and transportation. These changes were reflected in the literature and art of the period as well.
Views of Technology
In 1909, for instance, the Italian writer Marinetti published The Manifesto of Futurism, a great example of how intellectuals were affected by technology. He states that the world's magnificence has been enriched by this new beauty, the beauty of speed: We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back? What we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the impossible. Time and space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.(1)
This approach is very understandable, because its adherents assumed that modern technology would provide opportunities they had never experienced. The prospects of technology amazed them. But looking back, we see that technology shaped a new type of people who are dependent on machines. Producing tools and making money became cornerstones of modern life. These views threaten cultural values and traditional relationships among people who feel alone in these technologically separated environments. We ask: How much do machines dominate humanity, and why do people feel so deeply abandoned?
We can look at two perspectives from that period. The first is technology as a magical and wonderful creation, promoted by Marinetti and other futurists. The other is characterized by people like Charlie Chaplain who, in one of his movies, shows a worker who screws bolts every day as eventually starting to see everything as a bolt. This is the worst effect of twentieth-century technology: People have begun to feel like machines or parts of machines.
Do people need and deserve more than this? Of course, they do.
The latest version of modern technology is cyberspace, a place where people can find all sorts of information. Locating information and sharing experiences is easier than ever before. The Internet, for example, has become the information superhighway on which people can find almost everything. The Internet and other technological tools have helped create the expression being digital, which refers to people who use a lot of technology. Is this the illusion of technological globalization(2) or electronic democracy will be the end of participatory democracy?(3) Even though this digital medium provides a new source of information, we have not figured out how best to use it or what information to trust on it.
At this point, we must learn how to use modern technology and regulate information, because we cannot ignore them. These scientific and technological advances will play important roles in future developments. Science and technology in and of themselves are not the problem, nor have they ever been. The real problem is that science and technology are developed, deployed, and controlled by the predatory system of pancapitalism. The mainstream development of knowledge and technology is guided by increased efficiency in militarized production of violence and/or by potential corporate profits in civilian markets.(4)
There is another significant point here: Modern technology has been trying to create a cyberbody. In the future, scientists will be able to produce digital flesh to enhance our abilities. So here is the problem we have to solve: People who have these enhancements installed may begin to wonder if they are humans or robots. We already have seen that people can adjust their bodies in many ways: laser surgery to correct their vision, or synthetic material to replace their teeth.
Cyberfeminism focusing on women's role in cyberculture is another interesting example of changing the human body. This already has caused some problems. The challenge here is rather how to combine the recognition of postmodern embodiment with resistance to relativism and a free fall into cynicism.(5)
Technology has limited privacy. When we are born, we get a birth certificate that quickly goes online. Educational files, social security files, insurance files, criminal files, consumption files, and so on are all in cyberspace. The Internet has become an on-line marketplace and is continuing to grow.
On the other hand, even though we are so connected, our social relationships with others have fallen apart. Every relationship between teachers and students, buyers and sellers, parents and children, for example, will be changed radically in the next few decades.
The most important question is how can we find a good balance that gives happiness and hope for both our bodies and our souls? We are not just bodies that need to eat, sleep, and rest, among other things; our souls must be nourished. In this technological age, this has led to a conflictâthe crisis of modernityâbetween religious and metaphysical ideas. Nietzsche said that God was dead. Of course he was wrong, because he, like other philosophers, could not have realized that spiritual needs would become so important in modern times.
Today, we still are seeking for something to feed modern society's spiritual hunger. We will have to find or build a way of thinking that will include metaphysical ideas, scientific innovations, and religious thought. After that, we will be able to put ourselves in a place where people can regulate their spiritual and physical needs. Otherwise, we will never feel that we are free
1 F. T. Marinetti, The Manifesto of Futurism, Le Figaro (February 20, 1909).
2 Steve Gibson, www.kk.kau.se/mct/MCTO199/steve/ right.html.
3 An Interview with Paul Virilio, www.nettime.org/ nettime.w3archive/199904/msgn00456.html.
4 Critical Arts Ensemble Staff, Critical Art Ensemble, The Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness (Autonomedia: 1998), 7-8.
5 Rosi Braidotti, Cyberfeminism with a Difference, www.let.ruu.nl/womens_studies/library.html.