September 1, 2004

Technoblatherism Redux

On the Recurring Plague of the Technocrits, the Global Swarming of the Internet, and the Flaming Ozone Holes of the Blogsphere

NOTE: When I initially wrote this response to one of the endless Technology-As-Messiah manifestos that polluted the Net in the boom-boom days of the dot.bomb bubble, I had assumed that the then looming blow-out would put paid to the mouthbreathers who then spewed their gospel on the rubber-tofu circuit of conferences and seminars. Of course, I was wrong.

I failed to take into account that these perverted purveyors of pap had no second careers lined up and were indeed members of the hard-core unemployable. (Which is probably why so many have failed to see any improvement in their personal economies of late.) I did not foresee that their bodies would no be exposed to the elements and recycled by roaches, but that they would simply enter a state of stasis until reanimated by foreclosures on their jumbo mortgages, or the need to put their spawn into useless colleges.

With the advent of the GoogleSpasm, they have all returned to life and are again selling the same old spew in the same old bottles but with a few new fonts on the label.

Watching their tsunami of crapola again infest the Net, it seems appropriate to return to this essay and update it just a tad to acknowledge that the undead spawn of Neuromancer lurch among us again. The Technocrits are back. Time to get out the sledgehammer and sharpen several dozen wooden stakes.

In this besotted age of unremitting technological spasms, we all struggle to maintain our consciousness, social position, phony-baloney jobs and inadequate incomes through rigidly researched and needlessly reiterated blather. The Ponzi schemes that unfold each day in communications and computing can be numbing, yet still personally enriching -- which is why we need to pay attention to who's got the honey pot.

One understandable reaction is to blather: "Are these changes good, bad, or profitable? Should we sell out or buy in?"

The answer is "Both, frequently, and 'SHOW ME THE MONEY!'"

"But how, Uncle Gerard," you ask, "can we buy in?"

My children, nothing could be simpler. Just look around and whip out the cash. You are The Consuming Class, do what you do best. When in doubt, buy the bullshit.

Hypnotic technologies, such as voice mail, Gmail, feature-glutted and overpriced software, fertility drugs, boner pills, Spam, genetic engineering, instant messaging, Gameboy, cruise missiles, online conferencing, Black Tar Heroin and Roofies are making business, dating and life itself more convenient and enjoyable, and many (white) people in San Jose, New York, Boston, Washington, Seattle, Bern and the Grand Cayman Islands healthier, wealthier, and wiser.

So get yours now while the getting is good. With Google on the Big Board, Technocrit is back in play.

Technology is again working hard at trivializing work, atomizing families, and puffing up the economy in utterly predictable ways. Our cool new technologies -- now wireless! with snapshots! -- are also reintroducing every single day age-old forms of muscular tension, wrist damage, sight impairment, mental distraction, goofing off, and spiritual and physical masturbation. You also get useless gadgets you just gotta have to organize a life that has no purpose beyond the next

meeting, phone conference, instant message, and power luncheon. Tech has made you into your own focus group. Participate freely in this autofornication and remember to tell yourself only what you think you want to know.

Yes, technology, which is second only in the Pantheon of the Gods to the Stock Market or Anybody but Bush - Even This Bozo, is also giving us large groups of previously-smart and/or formerly cute people who produce nothing except total-loss business plans and endless position papers on gossamer issues with neither pith nor passion and even less insight. At the same time all this gaga technology worship is fortunately posing new threats to the cohesion of our physical communities.

Our current wave of way-cool high-tech technology is a global daisy chain into which we all feel the urge to lube up and merge.

Clearly, our current wave of way-cool high-tech technology is a global daisy chain into which we all feel the urge to lube up and merge. The best way to cut to the front of the line is the cheapest -- to blather; to 'Go for the Gold;' to make the team at the Blatherympics. For this we have assembled a star-class group of blatherers who in but the very recent past would have been doomed to writing press releases for Citicorp, but who now have a whole new gig: "technology criticism" (aka 'Technocrit' because it just sounds so cutting edge we can't stand it).

Despite the ridiculously complicated and consistently contradictory implications of technology, the conventional wisdom is woefully simplistic and shortsighted. Pundits, politicians, and self-appointed visionaries get lots of exposure when they reduce these complexities to breathless tales of either high-tech doom or cyber-elation, or babble about the evils of doing the same thing, or indeed blather about how this way really isn't that way at all -- because it is... well... digital. We are the first bi-textual critics. Our drool cups runneth over and our motto is:

Technocrit: since nobody knows what it is, anybody can do it. Even us.

In any case, "Technocrit" is the perfect literary metaphor for the D'Oh Decade. It is the kind of mind-pablum that our media machines love to pump into the endless slots on all-news-all-the-time-whether-you-need-it-or-not networks.

Repeated spurting emissions of Technocrit lead to dashed hopes, unnecessary snack food binges, outbreaks of corporate memo writing, email lists and blogs by the millions where we all get to trot out our baggy-assed insights as much as we want. This tsunami of input, being 99 and 44/100ths percent sheer bullshit, prevents us from understanding our own minds, much less our own culture. This is a good thing since, if we were to understand our present-day culture as it really is, we would loathe it much more than we already do. But Technocrit's primary function is to keep us from noticing that far-out is not in-deep. This is a very relaxing situation.

Over the past few years, even as the mind-numbing debate over technology has been rammed down the throats of millions who really couldn't care less, and has been characterized as "dominated by the louder voices at the extremes" (in order to give it some sort of news hook), a new, more balanced consensus has quietly taken shape in the boardrooms, educational institutions, and policy wonktanks that seek to profit from the whole high-tech cheese platter.

This present document, one of at least six billion similar paeans for moderation on critical issues from artificial anthrax to zippy-the-pinhead fright masks and iPod skins seeks to blather on about some of the shared beliefs, values, and needs for funding, fees, and book advances behind that consensus, which we have come to call "Technoblatherism."

Technoblatherism is as harsh a mistress as the moon. It demands that we think and write superficially and at paralytic length about the role that technofools and interface-obsessed individuals think they play in human evolution and everyday life.

Integral to this perspective is our observation that the current tide of technological transformation, while relatively unimportant and irrelevant in a world awash with starvation, ignorance, disappearing environments and species, nasty and unstoppable "ethnic conflicts," human greed, hate, and the unrestrained selfishness that is known as "the free market system," is actually a ripple on the oceans of change that have taken place throughout history. Still it seems mighty big to those of us bobbing here in the trough.

Looking, for example, at the history of the automobile, television, or the telephone -- not just the devices but the banal institutions they became -- "we see profound benefits as well as substantial costs." (And hope that you'll fail to notice what a cliche that one really is as well as how ignorant of history it reveals itself to be. It is the glory of technoblather that once we get you nodding over the glass like the drinking bird you won't really think about what you are reading. Indeed, we are counting on the fact that you'll probably just scan this bit of blather and we'll get away with this one. )

Similarly, "we anticipate mixed blessings from today's emerging technologies." (If you are paying attention, that's cliched statement number 14, but you're just scanning so what do we care?), and expect to forever be on guard for unexpected consequences -- which must be addressed by thoughtful design and appropriate use. (We put that in because we hear it a lot on CSPAM.)

As technoblatherists, we seek to plant the seeds of Morpheus and batten off the fertile middle ground between techno-utopianism and neo-Luddism by getting the kind of deal and book tour Cory Doctorow got for his latest Sterling/Gibson similacrum. We are technology "critics" in the same way, and for the same reasons, that others are food critics, art critics, or literary critics. To wit, utter unemployability in anything resembling a meaningful job or career. First of all, we can't think of anything else to do and, second, because we can spew out any old thing and get it sucked up by credulous editors as well as harassed television producers frantic to fill 2 minutes at 4:18 AM. We are Technocrits. We do not have to discuss the Good, the Beautiful, or whether or not something is True. We need but blather.

In addition, we can be passionately optimistic about some technologies, skeptical and disdainful of others and nobody will really be able to tell if we're right, wrong or making bubbles in our drool cups. Still, our goal is to neither champion nor dismiss technology but to blather. We do not want our blather to have any real position, but rather to apply it in a manner more consistent with basic corporate values, and whichever way the wind seems to be breaking in Washington.

Below are some of the basic principles that help explain the intellectual devolution that is technoblatherism. Internalizing them will allow you to give keynote addresses to Intel's stockholders meeting. So chug a triple espresso and try to make it through the night. Remember, as a wise man once said, "once you believe you are sincere the rest is easy." With a little effort you may even fool yourself.

Principles of Professional Technoblatherism

You cannot tell people to read the Cluetrain too often, even though the authors are all in the crazy place now.

Technologies are Switzerland.

A great misconception of our time is the idea that technologies have no bias. That's because in this age of moral relativism nobody, but nobody, who values his or her chances to own a Porsche and a second home wants to take a stand, one way or another, on anything.

The smart money in this day and age waffles on everything and doesn't talk hard truths about real issues unless they are a professional comedian and allowed, like the motley fools of old, to speak truth in front of the Kings of Capital. We're certainly not going to risk our butts by shoveling seaweed against that tide, especially over a silly issue like technology.

Far be it from us to say that technology is a bad thing. Nope. You didn't read that here. Especially if you are a venture capitalist with extra money.

On the other hand, tech is way-cool and let us tell you about our grandchildren's Palm Pilots.

On our third hand, technologies come loaded like sleazy dice with both intended and unintended social, political, and economic leanings which are really hard to write about in a way that you'll agree with so we'll just pass on by saying:

"Every tool provides its fools with a particular manner of seeing the world and specific ways of interacting with others."

Memorize that tasty blather bit, because it will be an answer to a question on your next Microsoft job interview right after the urine and blood tests.

It is important for each of us to consider the biases of various technology corporations and toady to those that reflect our cash-flow needs and aspirations to positions of influence over our fellow man. In other words, always be alert for the suck-up is our firm watchword. We hope to do this without alienating anyone and to keep the cards, letters, and offers coming in. For this reason, we hold that technology is not something about which you can say: "Rules? In a knife fight?" but rather, "Technology is as threatening as Switzerland." As.... Switzerland.... Switzerland.... you eyelids are getting heavy... heavy....

The Internet is naturally Dystopian in both design and effect.

Man, does that sound tasty or what? We almost added " well as in affect." but that seemed just a tad over the top, what?

The Net is an extraordinary tool for promulgating communications drool.

The Net and/or Web provides a range of new opportunities for people, communities, businesses, and governments to blather and goof-off without ever having to get anything done in the real world. This is the true value of this monstrous machine, not as an aid to productivity, but as a drag on productivity. It is a global Congressional committee with 750 million members. It also provides large numbers of people who were once thought of as kooks who couldn't get a job in the Circus the ability to spout absolute nonsense and get taken really, really seriously. On the Internet we are truly all Drudgers. And as Technoblatherists, we revel in this.

Yet as cyberspace becomes more polluted, it increasingly resembles society at large, in all its inane complexity -- except for the fact that you don't really have to deal with this "society," you can just disconnect at anytime you want ( And don't you wish your jobs, bills, obligations and relationships were like that?)

For every single empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life, there will also be at the very least 10,000 dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather ordinary, but all of which can blather with the best. So point, click, cut, paste, send and scan. Do your part in doing nothing. A nation in deep denial needs you.

Scan more, comprehend less.

Government has as an important role to play on the electronic frontier: it needs to butt in, slow down, control, roll out the pork barrel, seek out the pedophiles among us, pry into your private life, suck up to big business and, in general, really fuck things up.

Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth, only most of its inhabitants. In fact, we note that the whole notion of CYBERSPACE came from a pretty-good but fictitious science fiction novel and was promulgated by aging hippies for whom all of life these days is pretty much of an LSD flashback.

While governments should respect the rules and customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should not stifle this new world with inefficient regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that the public has no sovereignty over what an errant citizen or fraudulent corporation does online.

Doing good things with government in CYBERSPACE should entail:

As the representative of rich families and companies and the guardian of Harvard Business School values, the state has a compulsion to integrate cyberspace and conventional society by keying all an individual's online activity to their social security number and sending 10% of each citizen's after-tax income to Microsoft.

Technology standards and privacy issues, for example, are too important to be entrusted to the marketplace alone. Democrats, Republicans, Ralph Nader, the Marines, and all state and local governments need to have a say. Competing software firms have little interest in preserving the open standards that are essential to a fully functioning interactive network, but what the hell.

Markets encourage innovation, but they do not necessarily insure the public interest.

Why they should we don't know, but it sounds good.

Information is not knowledge, but who knew?

All around us, information is moving faster and becoming cheaper to acquire, and the benefits are manifest:

That said, the proliferation of data is also a serious challenge to sanity, requiring new measures of human discipline to ignore. We must not confuse the thrill of acquiring or distributing 800 light bulb jokes quickly with the more daunting task of converting them into knowledge and wisdom. Wow, that would be a big job and require us to leave our monitors and get some real experience in the real world. Boring. Please pass the clue bong.

Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we should never use them as a substitute for our own basic cognitive skills of awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment. For that we already have television.

Wiring the schools will not save them and has the added advantage of keeping us from spending real money and time to fix them.

The problems with America's public schools -- stupid teachers, dumber students, planned under-funding, social triage, bloated class size, buildings without roofs, automatic weapons, lack of standards, self-esteem seminars, and cafeteria food -- all trace their roots to previous efforts to introduce the technology-du-jour into the school system. We need to repeat this disaster as often as possible for therein lies The Fountain of Eternal Funding!

Consequently, this technology will be no different and will continue the educational disaster created and sustained by Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush-Bush. The art of teaching cannot be replicated by computers, the Net, or by "distance learning," but "distance learning" is so much cheaper that it is sure to be funded -- so send those "essential study proposals" in while they're handing out the grants. These grants can, of course, augment an already high-quality consulting income. But to rely on them alone as a means to purchasing a seaside second home in Hawaii would be to remain boatless in a yachting community.

Information wants to be cut-and-pasted.

It's true that cyberspace and other recent developments are really fucking with our copyright laws and frameworks for protecting intellectual property, not to mention the fact that it can remove intellect from property at a rate previously only dreamed possible. But, really, so what?

Although the ultimate answer will be to scrap existing statutes and principles, we can't really say that here without damaging the career paths of a million policy wonks. Instead, we must -- as our charter dictates -- blather on about updating old laws and interpretations so that information receives roughly the same protection it did in the context of old media. At least until that horse is out of the barn and across the meadow and those who battened off of the old copyright laws are really, really screwed.

Our goal as Technoblatherists is to distract authors/owners into believing they really have sufficient control over their work so that they have an incentive to create without realizing how badly they are being ripped-off. We are also hard at work maintaining the right of the public to rip-off information at will and in mass quantities.

The public has for decades been conned into thinking that it actually owns the airwaves; the public should be allowed to continue in this delusion for as long as possible.

The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters didn't like Topsy, just grow, but merely extended a long run of exploitation and connivance between big business and big government at the expense of a clueless public. The formula is simple: They get billions, you get MTV. This is a gravy train that nobody wants to stop. The giveaway underscored the corrupt and inefficient misuse of public resources that is traditional in the arena of technology.

The citizenry must be kept clueless about the real profits from the use of public frequencies through weapons of mass distraction by keeping as small a sliver of the spectrum as possible for the "showmedia" of educational, cultural, and public access uses.

We should demand more for private use of public property, but at the same time understand that it just ain't gonna happen.

Understanding technology should be an essential requirement of global citizenship or you don't get no T-1 access or a free T-Shirt with the Windows 98 logo on it.

Yes, there are rules. No, you are not allowed to know them.

In a world slogging through a turbid flow of information for reasons that nobody really understands, the bad interfaces -- and the underlying bug-ridden code -- that make information far too visible are becoming enormously enervating social forces. Promulgating this stuff as quickly as possible keeps the dead souls of the world fat, happy, barefoot and pregnant. Such a deal.

By helping this elitist white-guy/gal movement move ever forward, by becoming a Certified Technocrit Technoblatherist and participating in the creation of the ever expanding pool of Internet fools, you too can get your piece of the action.

Remember that the fools who think they need the Net have immense purchasing power and offer a lot of income enhancing potential. We should subject them to the same marketing scrutiny as the great blatherists who brought us the War on Drugs, The Democratic Party and Instant Messaging.

We don't know about you but we're setting blather-phasers to numb, strapping on our surge protectors, and jacking-in to

Posted by Vanderleun at September 1, 2004 12:37 PM
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