Reposted from 22nd July 2010
Futurists want you to think there is such a thing as “Technology in General” which is going somewhere in particular that only they know about because only they understand the language in which “Technology in General” declares what it wants. In short, they are just another cohort of bamboozling Priests who are passing the collection plate.
“It is people, and only people, acting together, peer to peer, taking up tools and techniques and directing them to liberatory or oppressive ends that are the only force for liberation or oppression that matters in the world.
To speak of “technology” as a force is always a mystification. It is a mystification in the same way that those who declare in the face of some political dilemma that we should “let the market decide” the outcome are always actively forgetting in so saying that what passes as “the market” in any epoch is made up of laws, treaties, customs, expectations embedded in maintained infrastructures all of which are the consequence of human decisions, and so imputing to the result of decisions a capacity for decision that functionally displaces present public responsibility for making a decision onto human decision-makers past or hidden.
Such mystifications disproportionately constrain liberatory possibilities, since it is always to incumbent and secretive elites that agency defaults when present and public agency is disavowed.
This is a point that cannot be made often enough, especially given how regularly techno-utopians and futurologists peddle their mystifications in the stirring cadences of calls to and celebrations of emancipation (in this, as in other things, their close kinship with advertising and self-promotional discourses more generally, is unmistakable).
What we tend to call “technology” in any epoch is always in fact a fraction of what is actually technical or artifactual in the world. As we grow accustomed to our techniques and artifacts we tend to “naturalize” them. We lose track of the artifactuality of our cultivated terrain, the technical expressiveness of our body’s gestures and bearing.
To lose track of the made in this way is to lose a thread that might help us make our way through history’s labyrinth: to forget what has been made otherwise is fatally to misconstrue what could be made otherwise still.
We tend to assign the moniker “technology” only to that portion of artifice that remains as yet unfamiliar, that seems in its unfamiliarity to be disruptive to our expectations, and in turn in that disruptiveness seems to promise or threaten potency. Nothing is more commonplace than to confine the assignment to the sphere of the “technological” only those events and entities which, in their confused unfamiliarity, might be invested with the most hyperbolic dreams of omnipotence and nightmares of impotence.
My point is not to propose the contrary mystification that technology is somehow “neutral” or “autonomous” but to recognize that the interestedness and embeddedness with which the “technological” inevitably reverberates begins in the assignment always only to some and not all that is susceptible to that designation the “technological.” The politics of the “technological” in its most general register is the elaboration of collective agency through the policing of the bounds of what will be taken to be the familiar and the unfamiliar, and so the open and the closed, the possible and the important.
Needless to say, the faux-progressivism of that most paradoxically reactionary of contemporary public discourses, the futurological, (whether in the mainstream futurology of neoliberal developmentalism or in the surreal Robot Cultic extremities of superlative futurology) consists in little more than the exacerbation and exploitation of ignorance and confusion about the state of the art the better to substitute for deliberation about the costs, risks, and benefits of technoscientific changes to their actual stakeholders in the world a faithful conjuration of superlative futures toward which these changes are presumably nothing in themselves but stepping-stones along a path toward the ultimate techno-magickal transcendence of disease and mortality (super-longevity), error and humiliation (super-intelligence), frustration and compromise (super-abundance), a return to infantile plenitude purchased at the usual cost of the refusal of adult engagement in the open futurity inhering in the present, peer-to-peer.
To invest with the force of the agency which is rightfully ours what has already been arbitrarily assigned the status of the “technological” is always to constrain possibility in the service of incumbency, to peddle the promise of amplified gratifications the better to distract us from the permanent promise of liberation through education, agitation, and organization, in our open and opening present, peer to peer.”