Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is progress such a bad thing........?

...and so the debate rages on. Something I find interesting in all the readings I do in EMAC is a consistent reaction to the introduction of new forms of technology. Throughout history cultures have gotten so stuck in their ways that when someone suggests something new, they tend to resist it.

For example, Benjamin spoke about the "aura" that once existed in art prior to mechanical reproduction. (I actually had another reading this semester on this very subject, but understand it better after reading Benjamin's article.) And, I must admit, that "aura" of process, place, time, and experience, or, "authenticity" intrigues me. I have an appreciation for the authentic so it also saddens me that this element in art no longer exists, at least in the form Benjamin spoke of.

However, if there were never any change, there would never be any progress. Yes, I agree with both Benjamin and Nichols that changes in technology create social and political shifts in society. But I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing. In fact, to the contrary. Most technological advancements throughout history have been for the good of society. Just because something changes the way people interact, accomplish tasks, or even approach art doesn't mean society is in a state of decay. Attitudes cause societal decay...but that's a topic for an entirely different discussion.

I think the underlying issue driving these continued debate(s) regarding advancements of any kind is the loss of control people feel when they are confronted with something they are unfamiliar with. Nichols talked about control in his article, but in a different way. Perhaps he skipped over the initial lack of control that I mentioned above, and got straight to the heart of the matter. Historically control has driven change. Nichols mentions the Great Exhibition of 1851 in which two permanent exhibitions, the zoo and the botanical gardens were unveiled and celebrated. In his perception, this event is an example of the human desire to control all things. In this instance, nature was taken out of it's natural condition so that the powers-that-be could make sense of it, or control it.

As such, the dawn of mechanical reproduction, photography, film, and now cybernetic systems (just to mention the one's discussed in the text) are all means to tighten control. In mechanical reproduction, the business owner could control and thus capitalize off the sweat of his workers. In photography, the camera could capture a more realistic representation of nature. In film, the director could create and control an imaginary world. Cybernetics operates in a fashion that can potentially control everything we do; most notably in his article, what type of baby you would like to have...if you don't like it, kill it. (I wonder what the Republicans have to say about that EXTREMELY DISTURBING fact?! Oh, I forgot, it's the rich people who are doing it).

So, progress changes our perceptions, our social interactions, and our overall culture. But isn't that what it's supposed to do? If advancements make the world a better place to live, isn't it all worth the initial uncertainty? The implications of cybernetic systems are far greater than anything that has come before. By sharing ideas, culture, music, even video, with people from all around the world, we can start to build global alliances and perhaps take a small step toward world peace. Will we take advantage of all the opportunities that are literally at our fingertips? Or will regulation take hold before these greater potentials are realized? But if we all got along, the folks who like to "control" things wouldn't have anything to do...perhaps I just answered my own question.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely focused on the topic of control this week, Carol! You raise the issue of anxiety related to a lack of control, in counterpoint to Benjamin and Nichols concepts of macro-level social control. How might we as individuals, on the micro-level, and I wonder whether these two scales of control might be working to mutually reinforce one-another? If so, what sort of shifts in social attitudes toward change are necessary to allow us to utilize the "dynamite of apperceptive power" (Nichols)?