Technology and Consumerism

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Webgear
Technology and Consumerism
N.R.KISSED

I'm not intending on picking on JRose here but I did think that it was interesting what she posted in the last thread that demonstrates even those of us who are opposed to conspicusous consumption can ehco themes from the narratives that drive it.

"I'd be the last to begrudge innovation. We can't halt ourselves from moving forward, but I think there needs to be more effort put into reducing technological waste and both an individual and corporate responsibility to make educated decisions when it comes to both producing and consuming new equipment.

Instead of releasing a new iPod each year, I hope we get to a point that "old" hardware can be equipped with new technologies, helping lead us away from our current throw-away society. New, adaptable products could be a potential answer."

So what do we mean by "innovation" or "moving forward" there underlying assumptions that reflect the beliefs of consumer culture. Why is it now that innovation is almost always synonomous with new technology, what about social innovation new ways of constructing social systems, or relational innovation new ways of relating to one another, or the planet, or artistic innovation etc. Even in terms of technology why not think of utilizing what we already have rather than always having to try and create newer, faster, shinier.

In terms of moving forward. All we appear to be moving toward is environmental devastation of one way or another. Do we genuinely believe that we are better off individually or globally because we can put thousands of songs on a small device rather than previous technologies. Are we so horribly deprived because our pictures are not as bright and life-like. Forget the fact that most of the stuff on TV and much of mass produced music is tedious shite, we forget how consumer culture has changed us from partipants to observers. Imagine the devastating horror if we actully had to pick up an instrument oursleves and play or sing rather or even watch or listen to someone else do it live? Imagine how clear and life like our neighbours, friends, family and lovers appear when we turn off the screen. 

It is understandable though when in the near future we are up on charges of environmental crimes against the planet and being tried by the next generation our defence will be clear. We had to choose between clean air, water, forests meadows , jungles, all the myriad of creatures that dwell there and whether we had a bigger and clearer picture on our Plasma or the latest distracting gadget that ensures we are constantly distracted.

G. Muffin

Webgear wrote:
It is my view that with increasing technology we are creatong items that we do not need or that does not need to be replaced.

For examples: IPods, cell phones, DVDs and TVs.

Don't I need these things?  Why not?  Shouldn't I replace them when they fail?

I have cable but no TV.  I have 24/7 internet access but House Rules cut me off at 1000.  We're all consumers.  That's the nature of living things.

Bubbles

But we need technology. Without technology we would not know that the climate is changing on us. Technology shows us how we can reduce our power consumption, how to tap into more sustainable sources of energy.

I think the key is sustainability. I think we always will try to come up with a better tool. Your fancy knive certainly out performs a sharpened flintstone in making gefilte Fisch. And I doubt if you can talk Sineed into using homeopathy to cure a case of gonerea.Smile The main thing to me is to ask if moly-nickel -chrome steel is compatible with our environment, the same with anti-biotics, etc, etc.

Here in the rural areas I often wish we had stores that were closer by. The otherday I had to travel 30km just to get a little bag of roofing nails to do a repair on a roof. These big stores tend to increase travel times.

Tommy_Paine

So what do we mean by "innovation" or "moving forward" there underlying assumptions that reflect the beliefs of consumer culture. Why is it now that innovation is almost always synonomous with new technology, what about social innovation new ways of constructing social systems, or relational innovation new ways of relating to one another, or the planet, or artistic innovation etc. Even in terms of technology why not think of utilizing what we already have rather than always having to try and create newer, faster, shinier.

 

Actually, I could quote most of that post, N.R. Kissed, as echoing my sentiments.   Everything today seems to be geared to more but less quality.  Yes, I could fit more songs on an iPod, but who wants to listen to that through those little ear buds? It's an audioatrocity.

And, all this social networking.   We get to know more and more and more people...more and more and more superficially.

There's nothing wrong with technology, or "progress", as you say, what's wrong is linking "new"  with "improved"  without any analysis.

 

 

Fidel

Consumer capitalism produces mountains of plastic widgets with built-in obsolescence. I read somewhere that it takes many hundreds of gallons of fresh water to make a stupid plastic shower curtain liner. And a lot of the obsolescent plastic widgets produced by an obsolescent economic system ends up in landfills and waterways and oceans. Plastic is made of of PVCs and carcinogenic chemicals and byproducts of petrochemical industries. It lasts forever in the soils and leaches into water tables. Plastic is now more abundant than plankton in some parts of the world's oceans. The fish and birds eat it, because they think if it's edible. And they die  slowly of esophogeal blockages or poisoning, whichever happens first for them.

Consumer products are laden with bad designs in everything from the crappy cars they sell us to the widgets that nobody needs or wants - and not until privateers spend many millions of dollars to convince us through advertising that we can't live without their junk. And adults can be a lot like children when it comes to seeking instant gratification. I know people who "shop til they drop" They set aside certain times of the year to head across the border to for crazy Jim's or whacky Wally's annual midnight madness sales, or whatever. Capitalism is about brainwashing people to be brand loyal and to want things that we don't need when it comes down to weighing real costs to nature and future generations versus some obscure personal need for manufactured consumer items which are supposed to improve our lives or make doing some task or another easier for us. Karl Polanyi said that stuff doesn't matter to us nearly as much as relationships with other human beings and society in general. People matter not stuff. Stuff doesn't make us happy according to market socialists like Polanyi. And I think it's true. The economy used to serve man. But over time, man has become embedded in his economy and no longer recognizes or understands the name of the game.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
Fidel
jrose

N.R.KISSED wrote:

I'm not intending on picking on JRose here but I did think that it was interesting what she posted in the last thread that demonstrates even those of us who are opposed to conspicusous consumption can ehco themes from the narratives that drive it.

"I'd be the last to begrudge innovation. We can't halt ourselves from moving forward, but I think there needs to be more effort put into reducing technological waste and both an individual and corporate responsibility to make educated decisions when it comes to both producing and consuming new equipment.

Instead of releasing a new iPod each year, I hope we get to a point that "old" hardware can be equipped with new technologies, helping lead us away from our current throw-away society. New, adaptable products could be a potential answer."

So what do we mean by "innovation" or "moving forward" there underlying assumptions that reflect the beliefs of consumer culture. Why is it now that innovation is almost always synonomous with new technology, what about social innovation new ways of constructing social systems, or relational innovation new ways of relating to one another, or the planet, or artistic innovation etc. Even in terms of technology why not think of utilizing what we already have rather than always having to try and create newer, faster, shinier.

 

I think you're right. Technological innovation is just one way of moving forward, but I do value it, especially in a career where social media and other technological advances can be a positive way of networking and even helping to create social change. You mention constructing social systems and artistic innovation, both of which are crucial, and I believe can be aided (though sometimes hurt) by technological innovations.

I think we both agree, though we've worded it differently, that we should utilize what we already have, but I'd argue making these products adaptable, with the ability to progress within an existing product is better than our current throw-away society.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

One important way to bridge the gap between what jrose is talking about and what NRK is saying is to recognize that technology is social practice. We have a tendency to think that technology is determinate--which is to say, it is "invented" and thus changes society or civilization in some way, rather than acknowledging the historical reality that has necessitated a particular technology. Consider, for example, that the internet existed as such for decades before the world decided to take it up as a mainstream phenomenon. So did television, radio, the combustion motor, the electric light, etc. Conceived in this way, the "innovation" of the iPod or the Kindle is analogous to the consumerist impulses that underwrite our economy and social relations. This is also why counter-culture and activist impulses are able to take up such innovation for subversive purposes. Technology is simply one of many forces that allows us to change the world that is changing us.

jrose

Catchfire wrote:

Technology is simply one of many forces that allows us to change the world that is changing us.

 

Excellent words to live by, Catchfire. I like that.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

As long as one doesn't fall into the pit of imagining that technology is value-neutral, that is. Constructing weapons that kill great numbers of people in one go proves that. Some famous guy also once wrote ...

The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist."

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Well I quoted Marx (that's who the quote is from) to make the point that with a certain technology you have a certain kind of society. For a military man such as yourself, you might be very intrigued by the way Marx uses the example of changes in military technology AND ORGANIZATION (added - NB) to demonstrate his point.

But perhaps you already knew that about old Karl.

Fidel

Webgear wrote:
I would rather live under a feudal lord than an industrial capitalist.

Your wish is granted, Webgear. If we look at Linda McQuaig's wealth parade of richest to poorest Canadians, you already are living within a modern feudal setup in Canada. We have more billionaire oligarchs per capita than either the US or Russia. These richest people, a big six chartered banking monopoly and corporations basically decide what we payout everyday to live, from the strip malls and real estate they own and rent to small businesses,  to their grocery store chains, to their real estate speculations and housing development companies, to the rightwing think tanks they pay to lobby politicians and Canadian senators who game the system on their behalf. These people and the corporations and who run the handful of federally regulated banks are an equivalent to Canada's royal family and feudal lords. And they are filthy rich compared to even the powerful lords, kings and queens of medieval times.  [url=http://www.examiner.com/x-26284-Canada-Headlines-Examiner~y2009m12d14-Gl... even think they are above paying taxes[/url] Linda McQuaig and the NDP have mentioned how the rich and corporations have gotten away with not paying billions of dollars in taxes they legally owe the feds for many years and was a large reason why the feds went into a massive debt hole since 1975 or so. Some say part of the difficulty with encouraging the parasitic side of our economies to pay the taxes they should is that global corporations work hard at simply not declaring their global profits in whichever country they are stripping of assets and profits. The writing was on the wall in the 1970's for productive labour economies dependent on oil and its derivatives. The rich knew then that they wanted to get away from pouring footings for new manufacturing plants for a making things for export type of economy. The rich want to live off economic rents and compound interest. Our modern day feudal lords and absentee corporate landlords have everything going their way. The superrich really do have different interests to those of the rest of us working class slobs.

"We can have democracy or great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both" - US justice Louis Brandeis

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

That's a fine litany, Fidel, but misses the point. It's not simply the wealth of the super-rich or the resulting absence of wealth of the rest of us that is the key, but the social relationships that are the cause of the huge differences in wealth.

Well, that was Marx's point anyway. And I think webgear was, to some degree, addressing these relationships.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:

That's a fine litany, Fidel, but misses the point. It's not simply the wealth of the super-rich or the resulting absence of wealth of the rest of us that is the key, but the social relationships that are the cause of the huge differences in wealth.

Well, that was Marx's point anyway. And I think webgear was, to some degree, addressing these relationships.

I was saying about the handful few billionaire oligarchs and conglomerates running Canada, they are the equivalent of Canada's blue bloods and overlords. Marx said something, too, about primitive accumulation. Most of Canada's billionaire families "earned" their first millions by illegal booze, except for the Irvings. They started out as log thieves on the St John's River.

 

Webgear

N.Beltov

I am familiar with Mr. Marx's works; however it has been about 20 years since I last read them.

I would be interested in discussing his theories of changes in military technology and organizational structure if you would like to.

Fidel

This period in time will be looked back upon in the future as a time when man was fascinated with baubles and widgets and foppery. Capitalism based on consumption will give way to future economies driven by health care and other services and amenities designed to improve quality of life. Advances in science and technology will make owning the means of production possible for workers and local communities. 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Webgear wrote:
I would be interested in discussing his theories of changes in military technology and organizational structure if you would like to.

 

A start might be the letters of Marx, and his lifelong Comrade Fred Engels, on War and Military Science.

There are some Marxists who might be considered as "technological determinists" but I don't think, myself, that such a view does justice to the Marxist perspective. Having said that, I know there are some interesting comments from either Marx or Engels on changes in military technology and/or organization. Perhaps they can be found in the letters above. Marx was big on social relationships - as I've tried to underline in my remarks to Fidel -  and it may be that he was the first to look at changes in miltary organization from this perspective.

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Well I wish I could do a better job of quoting chapter and verse. Perhaps I'm just remembering a few interesting quotes, now forgotten, and it makes no substantial difference.

The other material, such as by Guevara on Guerilla Warfare or Trotsky on this or that, is interesting but not directly related to Marx's claims regarding technological and organizational change in the history of militaries.

************************

The newest doctrine that I'm familliar with, if it can be called that, is that of the "interoperability" of militaries from different countries. Needless to say, from a left wing perspective in Canada, this is viewed with unconcealed suspicion and wariness for obvious reasons of sovereignty and independence of (foreign) policy.

Fidel

N.Beltov wrote:
Marx was big on social relationships - as I've tried to underline in my remarks to Fidel -  and it may be that he was the first to look at changes in miltary organization from this perspective.

I don't think that I can be fitted up entirely as a techno determinist. Wiki says that most interpretations of TD share [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_determinism#The_nature_of_tec... general ideas:[/url]

  • "that the development of technology itself follows a predictable, traceable path largely beyond cultural or political influence, and
  • that technology in turn has "effects" on societies that are inherent, rather than socially conditioned or produced because that society organizes itself to support and further develop a technology once it has been introduced"
  • I think that whether or not either of those two central ideas is true is about to become irrelevant in the near future, perhaps the next generation or one after that. But technological singularity will be realized by the end of the century, or we will fail as a species. One or the other. And it may well be that we blow ourselves to bits, or that we poison all living things in the end. But I can say for certain that I do not subscribe to the Theodore Kaczynski type of notion that technology is bad, or that lefties are hiding around every corner readying ourselves to become totalitarian rulers over freedom-loving individuals and anarchists who just want to force their near religious beliefs for individualism on everyone else. I like society and think it a very natural and good thing since we left the trees and flocked together to protect one another from harsh forces of nature, gather and hunt etc.

     And I think that science and technological advancement can be used for bad as well as good purposes. Marx said that democracy is the path to socialism, and I think democracy will be important in determining two possible general paths for humanity in the near future. If we use technology to displace workers and make war more efficiently in a way that Jared Diamond describes of our past, then we won't last very long. But technological advancement will eventually become increasingly common and changing social relationships at the same time. We've lived through social upheavals in tandem with techno advancements in our life times. The next generation can expect those paradigm shifts to occur on a regular basis. And then at some point, technological singularity will occur, and contrary to  wikipedia's first idea central to all definitions of technological determinism, technological and even scientific advancements as a precursor to advancement will become unpredictable and more chaotic than anyone could expect. But the next 30 to 40 years will be the most important period in human history. People will determine the future, and whether or not to stop progress with a general lack of democracy leading to conflicts and perhaps another terrible world war. I think that powerful interests will be tempted to choose the wrong path for humanity, and so the struggle for democracy has become more important than ever.

    Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

    I am also concerned with how consumer technlogy is geared at relationships. I think one can't fully appreciate the role of technology and especially consumer technology unless one also appreciates the role of marketing in generating demand. It is interesting, to me, that consumer technology is gearerd at extracting the individual from the group. More people spend more of their time staring into screens than commiserating with each other. You will see adults and children alike mesmerized by screens even when in the company of others including sitting around a dinner table. But the marketing, as observed by Klein in No Logo, promotes just the opposite. The marketing promotes the technology as a means to social interaction among peers. As Klein observed, the marketing sells us that which the technology or the product or service deprives us.

    Fidel

    I think the internet is a technical advancement that represents a positive for everyone in general. Sure it was the result of US taxpayer funded effort (DARPA) in the beginning as were telephones and associated infrastructure the result of public investment(socialism) which the internet is ultimately tied to. They were bound to discover something positive with all that public funding and support over the years. It's a part of our lagging but slowly modernizing economies today and doesn't contribute to environmental damage nearly as much as most sectors of old world economy. We can wring our hands about how this and that are tools for capitalism.

    Extreme technophobias, like that of the former Ted Kaczynski, are really a half-ways legitimate overall concern for the environment we all depend on. But for some, their political beliefs run over into other self-evident truths they hold, and they tend not to see democracy as having worked for anyone's benefit. Lots of people can relate to that. I think in Kaczynski's case, his concern for the destruction of nature butted up against his misguided political beliefs that leftists represent the largest threat to the environment and individualism. He failed to see the excesses of a society which nurtures individualism for the rich and powerful while running roughshod over the individuality of tens of millions in his own country.

      Technology could also be used for socialism as was the case in 1970's Chile. Allende's Chile was to be the first modern experiment in information based economy. There were criticisms then of socialist economy, and right-rightists said that there are no feedback mechanisms for distributing goods and services within a state socialist economy. Stafford Beer the cybernetician had an idea to use principles of the human body's central nervous feedback mechanisms and implement the same ideas within an information economy using the most modern information technology. This idea appealed to Allende, a doctor himself.  And before it got off the ground, fascists transformed Chile into what would become a genesis fable for neoliberal ideology that would shape western world economies through to its slow but sure demise today.

    Webgear

     

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    Fidel

    [url=http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2010/10/invention_secrecy_2010.html]Inve... Secrecy Still Going Strong[/url]

    fas.org wrote:
    There were 5,135 inventions that were under secrecy orders at the end of Fiscal Year 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office told Secrecy News last week. It’s a 1% rise over the year before, and the highest total in more than a decade.

    Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, patent applications on new inventions can be subject to secrecy orders restricting their publication if government agencies believe that disclosure would be “detrimental to the national security.” [...]

    Thus, the 1971 list indicates that patents for solar photovoltaic generators were subject to review and possible restriction if the photovoltaics were more than 20% efficient. Energy conversion systems were likewise subject to review and possible restriction if they offered conversion efficiencies “in excess of 70-80%.”

    One may fairly ask if disclosure of such technologies could really have been “detrimental to the national security,” or whether the opposite would be closer to the truth...

    Everything is a potential threat to the ultra paranoid US national security state. Everything.

    ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

    What rate of efficiencies do the energy conservation systems we regularly use have?

    sknguy II

    I don't know about conservation, but it looks like that 1971 stat in Fidel's quote about conversion should still be quite safe. According to Wikipedia the current record for photovoltaic cells is 42.4% efficiency.

    Oops misread the quote... it was suppose to be over 20% efficient.

    Fidel

    [url=Ascending">http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-aug/28-launching-on-a-beam-of-light... to the Stars on a Beam of Light[/url] On the space ship superstar? I've got a solar powered laser beam guitar...

    [url=http://www.countercurrents.org/freese041110.htm]India: Militarizing Space With U.S. Help[/url] Former Indian president wants to harness microwave energy from space AND FOCUS INTO A BEAM AIMED AT THE EARTH!

    Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

    Just found out about this gadget this week:It's a jar opener, made by Black and Decker. I have bad arthritis in my hands - wish I heard about this 20 years ago. Why don't we have a "gadgets" thread?

    NDPP

    Ontario Looking At Demerit Points For Distracted Drivers

    http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2013/11/05/distracted_driving_dea...

    "The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) says motorists talking on cell phones or texting are killing more people on Ontario highways than impaired drivers..."

     

    From One Second To The Next: A Film By Werner Herzog (and vid)

    http://www.openculture.com/2013/08/werner-herzog-texting-while-driving.html

    "I'm not a participant of texting and driving - or texting at all, but I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."

    please forward to anyone who talks, texts and drives...