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<nettime> The War Between the Two Technologies
Newmedia on Sat, 2 Mar 2002 21:36:30 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> The War Between the Two Technologies


[Frederick Wilhelmsen and Jane Best, "The War in Man: Media and Machines,"  
1970, University of Georgia Press]

"Now electronic technology is antithetically opposed to mechanics in
almost every aspect.  McLuhan has demonstrated this brilliantly in his
'Understanding Media.' Here we select one of these aspects crucial for out
purposes.  Mechanical technology tends towards anonymity as it approaches
perfection; machines progressively throw off human intervention in their
functioning the better they become, needing less and less immediate human
guidance by their operators; they reach for an independence they never
quite achieve; and they, in the measure of their excellence, depend less
and less upon the human person.  Electronic media do something entirely
different.  They involve the person by invading his entire nervous system
and by eliciting his attention, willy-nilly.  You cannot *not* be involved
in the light that is on.  Personal involvement is of the very meaning
itself of electronic media, whereas personal involvement is a sign of
primitiveness in mechanical technology.  The issue can be expressed as
follows: electronic media are independent in their own mode of existence,
and they render man dependent by involving him; but mechanical technology,
while dependent upon man, progressively attempts to escape the dependence.  
The results, of course, are antithetical.  The electronic involves man
more and more as it approaches its perfection.  The war between these two
technologies -- the older approaching fullness at the very moment of its
immanent obsolescence even while it mingles with the newer -- has produced
an intolerable tension in the psyche of western industrialized man.

"The mechanical order has had four centuries now to depersonalize the
human being and to render the world surrounding him remote and distant
until he has almost come to sense himself a stranger in his own house.  
The new media, simultaneously, throw him back into what McLuhan calls
'tribalization,' into a new order of corporate existence that obliterates
space and time even as it combines into unity by analogy a world in which
men can no longer hide from one another.  It is as though the machine were
suddenly found out because somebody turned the lights on.  Atomized by
mechanical culture into solitary units that had been centralized in the
gigantic factory which West had become, cut away from one another by an
ever-increasing division of labor, constrained to live in a world that was
perforce as functional as was its technical basis -- men suddenly found
their private and depersonalized lives invaded by a gigantic Peeping Tom
that synthesized once again the hitherto fragmented, the united the
previously isolated, that abolished pure function in the name of
communitarian being.  We oversimplify for the purpose of illustration.  
Actually, the new technology has not abolished the old -- not yet.  It
co-exists with the old, buttressing it peripherally even while gradually
replacing it centrally.  But in the meantime, WESTERN MAN IS FORCED TO
LIVE TWO RYTHMNS WHICH OPPOSE EACH OTHER.

"As a mechanical man, he is alone, anonymous, violent in the mechanization
of his sexuality and resentful in the loss of his personality.  As *beamed
on* by electronic media which englobe him along with all other men, he is
forcibly united to the whole, tribalized, reintegrated bruquely into a
humanity he would otherwise avoid if he could.  Machine tenders in
Detroit, beer-swiggers at the 'Oktoberfest' in Munich, scuba divers of
Ecaudor, space men on the moon and miners in the bowels of the earth, the
Pope in Bogata and Russian tanks in Prague on the same day -- all are
rendered simultaneous to a generation fed on television.  Privacy as a
stance and as a way of life is threatened.  There will be no more
invasions under the cloak of darkness, and even the slaughter of the
Biafrans in Nigeria now works its tragedy into the front rooms of millions
in America.  No longer can anybody get away with something without being
found out.  Privacy -- itself a necessary by-product of mechanical
fragmentation -- is today discovered, revealed, commented on.  Princess
Irene of Holland taking a sunbath on the roof of an Italian hotel in a
bikini, discovered and photographed by prying news photographers, did not
lose her privacy.  It was not taken away from her.  It was simply found
out and violated."

(pages 14-16)







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