Here, in Silicon Valley, it is taken for granted that technology is changing the world for the better. But the more I talk with non-tech friends the more I realize that contemporary information technology is actually viewed with fear and loathing. Yes, that's what I said: fear and loathing outside Silicon Valley. For many people, the Internet, personal computers and the other weapons of virtual reality only add complexity and confusion to their lives. For many people outside Silicon Valley, always-on digital technology is the problem at the heart of our culture rather than the solution.
Always-on equals always-bothered.
Always-on equals never-thinking.
This suspicion of technology’s impact upon culture was poignantly summarized in an email I received this morning from a well-known San Francisco creative artist. Through a mutual friend, I had invited this artist (who asked to remain anonymous since he/she doesn’t want to waste time in worthless email exchanges with irate strangers) to appear on my podcast show AfterTV.
This is what I got back from my anonymous artist:
L forwarded your information to me. I checked out your site, but I don't know if I'd be an appropriate guest. As far as the digital revolution goes, although I'm reasonably computer literate, and I do think computers have some good uses, I have strong Luddite tendencies. I intend to write my next book by hand. I think digital music is tiresome. Eventually people are going to return to live music, learn how to master an instrument, drop all the gizmos. Live music is where the vitamins and other musical nutrients are. Nowhere else. And I can't read a book on a computer. I don't know anybody who can. Short pieces yes, whole books no. People are reading books less and less, true, but I think the resulting "illiteracy" is showing up in disastrous ways. Nobody can follow a long thought. People have short attention spans cause all they want is to be entertained. I don't think technology is magical. It's mundane. Magic is where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With technology the whole is exactly equal to the sum of the parts--nothing more. I think of technology as being, by and large, the feverish attempt of a culture to lose itself because it is SO bored. This is not meant to be hostile. I just thought you should know where I stand.
I just thought you should know where I stand. Wow! As the German theologian Martin Luther told the Edict of Worms in April 1521: "Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God."
Yes, the artist has nailed it, Martin Luther style, with this anonymous manifesto. It’s a much more direct critique of technology than my vertiginous 11 Unfashionable Thoughts. It should be nailed on the cubicle wall of every Silicon Valley software engineer who has been seduced by Google-like nonsense about technology “doing no evil.”
Perhaps the San Francisco artist should drive down 101 to Mountain View and nail it, Martin Luther style, on the front door of the Google office. Martin Luther 2.0. The only problem is that, here in Silicon Valley, where The Law of Forgetting is the only game in town, nobody can remember Martin Luther 1.0. No, grand historical gesture here is pointless. Better to slap the manifesto on the blogosphere. Anonymously. Just as Martin Luther would probably do, if he happened to reappear now, almost five hundred years after the Edict of Worms, in our brave new Web 2.0 world.