Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Technology and Myth

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, "torn halves" says of that sniping snippet tumbling around at the moment:
'[T]alk of the digital revolution being a lie is spot on. More needs to be said, though, to clarify the extent to which it is not so much the technology that is the problem, but rather the way it is being mythologised and the way it is being sold.
I think you will find much on the topic of techno-mythologization here on Amor Mundi, especially in my critique of the kind of pseudo-scientific pseudo-progressive techno-utopian sales pitches I attribute to many futurologists and call Superlativity. To say this is a lie -- as I did and as you agreed -- is of course a simplification amounting to something like another lie, for there is the lying of parochially profiteering con men, there is the lying of those who aspire to understand the mysteries of the world in faithfulness, there is the lying of those who lie to themselves or make a lie of themselves in their denial of the damage they do or the damning they're in for, and all of this deception and self-deception and bad faith is a part of what I called in that quotation, too simply, "a lie."

Your choice instead of the word myth is a good one. About that word, myth, for now, I will merely make the preliminary and obvious point that there is no such thing as "technology" in general, just a constellation of artifacts and techniques, some useful to some, some not so useful to others, some not yet put to the uses that might make them useful, some so familiar they no longer seem to be artifacts at all. If mythology is, as Roland Barthes put it, "de-politicized speech" -- that is to say, if myth is our speaking of a world that has been and still could be otherwise than it is as if it were instead a natural world that is as it must be or is the best it can hope to be -- then there is no more forceful mythology than that which naturalized our sense of what counts as technology, what technology is good for, what progress it can be counted on to bring the faithful.

It is "myth" that makes "technology in general" where there is none, it is "myth" that naturalizes and renders uncritical and hence susceptible to incumbency the politics of familiarization and de-familiarization through which we invest some but never all of our artifacts and techniques with the force of the "technological." Usually in doing so myth freights its furniture into portents of "The Future," makes them resonate with the fears and fantasies of agency, with pathological intensities of impotence and omnipotence. But the critical work of the discourse and politics of technologization, not only discovery and implementation and distribution but the taking up technique and artifice in consciousness and culture and in historical struggle is one and the same as the ongoing collective elaboration of agency, the work of doing what we think and thinking what we do. The task of a democratizing technodevelopmental struggle, in my view, must be to re-politicize the field of artifice and technique always in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity. For that is what is left of "progress" when its "nature," when progress' myth is drained away.

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