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Of Networked Societies And Broken Links
Today I want to share a little film with you by Ericsson that discusses the future (present?) reality of a networked society and interviews co-founders of Flickr, Soundcloud, the chief editor of Wired UK, and more.
Despite the overused melody at the beginning (according to a youtube commenter it sounds like a bank commercial) and the overly glossy look, the mini-documentary features some interesting points.
- Technology is rapidly changing the world we live in
- We’re only at the beginning…
- Technology will eventually make the world a better place
Another youtube commenter pointed out that the film is just a “soft version” of the singularity, as portrayed by Kurzweil, in which we’ll all gloriously upload our brains to computers and live eternal lives of tech-augmented splendor.
The film doesn’t go quite that far – (it’s commissioned by Ericsson, after all, one of Sweden’s largest companies and as a viral video, this film is not supposed to alienate people) but it still strives to imply and fuel the increasingly popular assumption that, as the Internet (and technology in general) will get faster and more accessible, the world will somehow magically change for the better.
To me it always seems as if there’s a “leap of faith” inherent in these things. Faster Internet? Sure, gimme that. Better, cooler technology that allows me to work from anywhere and do whatever I want. Yes, sir!
But just how exactly is this going to transform the planet into heaven on earth? Technology drives behavioral change. This is a fact. But change is impartial to our preferences. It can be desirable or appaling.
Not this change technologists speak of! It’s a very specific, souped up concept of change.
As I’ve written many times before, our contemporary start-up culture has created a brand new narrative which glorifies technology as an almost divine force always in favor of the good. (“If it’s bad, it’s just old and/or not upgraded, yet!”)
Partly, this narrative of “technology makes the world a better place” has grown out of the necessity to drive corporate structures and constantly create new markets and attract investors. (You don’t do a fund-raiser with a well balanced analysis but with praise and lopsided “proof”)
It’s a narrative that sells. It’s hyper-optimistic (“the future will always be better!”), Western-centric and capital-driven.
We can see this narrative exemplified in the way companies like Apple produce gadgets not just for their functionality but to be loved. (A similar shift happened in the auto-industry when the market began reaching saturation. Cars were not just a thing to get from A to B, anymore. They became cult-images embedded with the insignia of societal status)
In September 2011 even the White House jumped on the tech-bandwagon and launched a campaign called “The Digital Promise”, which is supposed to revolutionize American education, while at the same time American youth are revolting against the fundamentals their society is operating on. Will a handful of shiny gadgets really solve this?
Consumerism and Entertainment is the new Bread and Circuses. Technology covers both. Computers and cell-phones, fulfilling both business and leisure needs are consumer-devices, after all.
Ad after ad, keynote after keynote, we’re buying into the dream that technology will redeem us.
It’s like we are becoming a footnote in the viral video of our own lives, removed and alienated the actual (and very real) change that’s happening to us too commodified to question; the future claimed by marketing departments and sold back to us until we don’t want it anymore.
What if, always looking forward, we are becoming oblivious of our own technology-inflicted change? What if we’re wasting our lives, waiting for technology to get better and better? What if the Great Shift has already happened and it’s up to us to actually do something with it?