6 Indiscernible effects of technology on society

Of all articles (that I’ve read) discussing the impact of technology on society, I find these (Carse’s) elements indiscernible yet fundamental to having a holistic view to the use of technology in society.

We use technology against ourselves.

Machines do not, of course, make us into machines when we operate them; we make ourselves into machinery in order to operate them. Machinery does not steal our spontaneity from us; we set it aside ourselves, we deny our originality. There is no style in operating a machine. The more efficient the machine, the more it either limits or absorbs our uniqueness into its operation. Because we make use of machinery in the belief we can increase the range of our freedom, and instead only decrease it, we use machines against ourselves.

He who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the present controls the past – Orwell

It is important to note too how machines give prominence to some idea or practice and in the process diminish and decimate others. For instance, when we talk about history of religion, we have mostly tended to talk about those religions that have been documented by technology e.g. by writing. Case in point, while we may talk of Christianity and have a good basis for doing so, we are nonetheless helpless in talking of other age old practices simply because technology has decimated them. It is as if we have been selective on what to bring forward and what to leave behind. Of course we have, and this illustrates well that he who controls the present controls the past.

We use technology against itself

Just as we use machinery against ourselves, we also use machinery against itself. A machine is not a way of doing something; it stands in the way of doing something. When we use machines to achieve whatever it is we desire, we cannot have what we desire until we have finished with the machine, until we can rid ourselves of the mechanical means of reaching the intended income.

We do not purchase an automobile merely to own some machinery…it is not machinery we are buying at all, but what we can have by way of it: a means of rapidly carrying us from one place to another, an object of envy for others, protection from the weather.

Similarly, a radio must cease to exist as equipment and become sound. A perfect radio will draw no attention to itself, will make it seem we are in the very presence of the source of its sound. Neither do we watch a movie screen, nor look at television. We look at what is on television, or in the movie, and become annoyed when the equipment intrudes-when the film is unfocused or the picture tube malfunctions.

When technology functions perfectly it ceases to be there-but so do we.

Radios and films allow us to be where we are not and not be where we are. Moreover, machinery is a way of hiding our inaction from ourselves under what appear to be actions of great effectiveness. We persuade ourselves that, comfortably seated behind the wheels of our autos, shielded from every unpleasant change of weather, and raising or lowering our foot an inch or two, we have actually traveled somewhere.

The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it (Weiser)

Such travel is not through space foreign to us, but in a space that belongs to us. We do not move from our point of departure, but with our point of departure. To be moved from our living room by an automobile whose upholstered seats differ scarcely at all from those in our living rooms, to an airport waiting room and then to the airplane where we are provided the same sort of furniture, is to have taken our origin with us; it is to have left home without leaving home. To be at home everywhere is to neutralize space.

If effective, the machinery will see to it that we remain untouched by the elements, by other travelers, by those whose towns or lives we are traveling through. We can see without being seen, move without being touched.

When it is most effective, technology will have no effect at all.

When most effective, the technology of communication allows us to bring the histories and the experiences of others into our home, but without changing our home. When most effective, the technology of travel allow us to pass through the histories of other persons with the “comforts of home,” but without those histories.

We use technology against each other

Using it against itself and against ourselves, we also use machinery against each other. I cannot use machinery without using it with another.

I don’t talk on the telephone; I talk with someone on the telephone. I listen to someone on the radio, drive to visit a friend, compute business transactions. To the degree that my association with you depends on such machinery, the connecting medium makes each of us an extension of itself. If your business activities cannot translate into data recognizable by my computer, I can have no business with you. If you do not live where I can drive to see you, I will find another friend. In each case your relationship to me does not depend on my needs but on the needs of the machinery.

We operate each other like machines

If to operate a machine is to operate like a machine, then we not only operate with each other like machines, we operate each other like machines. And if a machine is most effective when it has no effect, then we operate each other in such a way that we reach the outcome desired-in such a way that nothing happens.

  • Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and infinite games. p.117 – 130

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