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

Monday, January 06, 2014

Tragic Techbrofashionistas of The Future Put. A. Phone. On. It!

It is easy to lampoon the phony conjurations of progress celebrated by the gizmo-fetishizing consumer fandom gossip-columnists who call themselves "tech journalists."

What, you thought that sentence was leading to a "but-"?

AP Business Reporter Ryan Nakashima, testifying from The Future (you know, Las Vegas) takes a look into the crystal mall of the Computer Electronics Show and prophetically ponders: "Will 2014 be remembered as the year wearable computing took off?"

No doubt. No doubt.

Although futurologists like to give you the impression that they just cannot get enough change! and disruption! and acceleration! and accelerating acceleration! it is hard to shake the impression, once you have spent any time actually following their ecstatic pronouncements, that they actually just say the same things over and over and over again, attracting attention to themselves by declaring each time that these same things will be the things That Change Everything any moment now but then moving on once they have grown distracted or once Everything Not Changing after all makes their audience a bit restless, to the next thing on the list of the same things, on and on and on, until they circle back to the beginning of the list and the joyless ritual continues on.

Brain scans will immortalize your info-soul in cyberspace. Vat-grown meat will end hunger while making investors super rich. Fruit fly experiments promise medical breakthroughs that promise centuries-long sexy lifespans on the way. Human computer programmers beat a human without a computer at checkers or in a game show and artificial superintelligence is on the horizon. Capitalism will deliver extraterrestrial diaspora on the cheap in paradisical L5 toruses, orbiting love motels, space elevators, asteroid mining colonies. Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice for all is on its way via plastic, via 3D printers, via desktop nanofactories. Energy too cheap to meter is on its way via nuclear plants, via cold fusion, via a trillion solar panels. A full day's nutrition in a pill, weight loss in a pill, muscle mass in a pill, photographic memory in a pill, longevity in a pill, learn Chinese in a pill, eternal bliss in a pill. Grateful nonhuman animals will be tweaked into human conversationalists. The roads will roll and driverless cars will end all traffic accidents. Round and round and round we go. I once described this as the unbearable stasis of accelerating change.

And, oh yes, "wearable computers."

Wearable computers are always good for a turn on the pop-tech carousel every couple years or so. "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," wrote Oscar Wilde. With that kind of trendspotting churn going nowhere faster you didn't think futurological fandoms could stay away for long, now, did you? Calculator watches, Sony Walkmen, ankle odometers, Nintendo Power Gloves, "I am Locutus of Borg," bluetooth headsets, fitbits, google Glassholes, bring me my Philips Mental Jacket!

"The wearables wave is still in its early phases," declares Nakashima (and of course no matter how many times that tide comes and goes "the wave" is always only early), but you can be sure that "the technologies on display will offer a glimpse of the future." Who could doubt it? But, be warned: these are "not necessarily products that are ready for the mainstream consumer." Hey, believe me, all the techbros know that already! Nobody has to tell them that their personal purchasing practices reveal them to be fearless visionaries on the cutting edge of future tech.

Strictly speaking, anything worn is technology, from zoot suit to hazmat suit to catsuit. The prediscursive, preprosthetized body that technology presumably extends or enhances or amplifies is itself, of course, the site of prosthetic and discursive articulation -- our quotidian clothing, our language, our body language, our worldly posture are all posited discursively as prediscursive, familiarized into the pretechnological through technique. And hence so much of the work of “wearable technology” discourse -- true no less of the work of technological discourses more generally -- is actually to deny the technology of most that we wear, to deny most wearable technology is technology at all. This is so, even as the discourse conspicuously affirms and attests to the seductions and satisfactions of the new, the now, the next.

A sampling of the Extreme Edge offerings for our bleeding edge techbrofashionistas include a moisture resistant headband with earphones in it for extreme joggers (of The Future!), wristwatches that take your pulse (but only some of which will also tell you the time), lots of cellphones and cameras and cameraphones that look pretty much like the cellphones and cameras and cameraphones people have been buying for the last fifteen years, also there are lots of phones and cameras stuck onto other things, like cameras on goggles and hats, and phones in collars and hats. If you are ready for the revolution of using your toothbrush or the door of your oven to surf the internet, it would appear that capitalism is ready for that revolution, too. The put a phone on it revolution is on, y'all! Other forms of revolution remain frowned upon.

For a while there the futurologists of shaving were caught up in the full froth of irrational exuberance, twin blades became three! four! five! blades, each one taking us a brave step closer to the shaving singularity in which perhaps every single surface of our Smart Homes would be a welcoming blade's bleeding edge and our skin would remain baby-butt smooth as a natural result of simply walking around. Genius! But I suppose some marketing study noticed that people were starting to find these handhelds bristling with sharp metal more frightening than emancipatory and their mehum sheeple luddite fears choked off the arrival of the sooper robot shaving transcendence capitalism in her endless bounty had been preparing for us ingrates.

No matter, capitalism may not be adding more blades to your shaving handheld but the luddites have not yet closed the door to turning your shaver into an internet portal or putting a phone on it. The Future is still On my friends! Libertechbrotarian spontaneous disorderlies are still creating, innovating and cerebrating us onward and upward to the singularities via their singularities. After all, nothing really matters but the computer chip companies which are still sticking chips on other chips to keep Moore's Law cranking along to spit out the Robot God who ends history by solving all our problems for us (or possibly eating us all as computronium feedstock, but hey every rose has its thorn) in the fullness of time, soon, soon, so very soon. At least that program is still in motion! Meanwhile, however, while we await techno-transcendence into our imperishable shiny robot bodies among the sexy sexbots in the nano treasure caves or as digital angel avatars in Holodeck Heaven there are purchases to be made.


jimf said...

> Put. A. Phone. On. It!

Assuming the phone has a camera too, that would
certainly facilitate a popular category of "selfie".

Anthony Weiner wannabes take note!

jimf said...

> . . .cerebrating us onward and upward to the singularities
> via their singularities. . .

Ooh! That's hot!

jimf said...

> And, oh yes, "wearable computers."
> Wearable computers are always good for a turn on the pop-tech
> carousel every couple years or so. "Fashion is a form of ugliness so
> intolerable that we have to alter it every six months," wrote Oscar Wilde.

Bruce Sterling on "wearables":
Last year, I started by listing some more-or-random interest groups
who seemed to me to likely to have a rather good time in 2013. I
figured these interest-groups looked perky and energetic, and maybe
they would prosper, or at least be fun to watch. How'd they do?

---> "#1. The 3d printer guys. Just so interesting! Gotta love

*Well, the 3D crowd did have a pretty good time of it in 2013. Then
their little hobby markets started saturating, and also some cruel
patent-trolling broke out. They're still doing okay, but the buzz of
2014 has moved to "wearables." Whatever that is. "Wearables" means
all kinds of stuff. A 3DPrinter is a genuine, kind-of functional
machine, but a "wearable" is pretty vaporware, almost as vague as

*When wearables arrive, I hope they're Italian. If you've gotta wear
the damn things all the time, they ought to at least look elegant.

What does that remind me of? Oh yes, what Charlie Stross had
to say about the "SIngularity" a few years ago:
Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give
him a wedgie. Who knows?