Gerard Van der Leun on Mon, 20 Apr 1998 20:47:15 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Technoblatherism



In this besotted age of unremitting technological
spasms, we all struggle to maintain our
consciousness, social position, phony-baloney jobs
and inadequate incomes through rigidly researched
and needlessly reiterated blather. The Ponzi schemes
that unfold each day in communications and computing
can be numbing yet personally enriching -- which is
why we need to pay attention to who's got the honey
pot. One understandable reaction is to blather: "Are
these changes good, bad, or profitable? Should we
sell out or buy in?

The answer is "Both, frequently, and there is no end
of opportunity." Hypnotic technologies, such as
voice mail, feature-glutted and overpriced software,
fertility drugs, boner pills, Spam, genetic
engineering, Gameboy, cruise missiles, and Roofies
are making dating and life itself more convenient
and enjoyable, and many white people in San Jose,
New York, Boston, Washington, Seattle, Bern and the
Grand Cayman Islands healthier, wealthier, and
wiser. So get yours now while the getting is good.

Technology is also working hard at trivializing
work, atomizing families, and puffing up the economy
in utterly predictable ways, introducing age old
forms of muscular tension, wrist damage, sight
impairment, mental distraction, goofing off,
spiritual and physical masturbation, and useless
gadgets you just gotta have to organize a life that
has no purpose beyond the next meeting, phone
conference, and luncheon. It has made you your own
focus group, so get used to it.

Yes, technology, which is second only in the
Pantheon of the Gods to the Stock Market, is also
giving us large groups of smart people that produce
nothing except total-loss business plans and endless
position papers on gossamer issues with no pith nor
passion at all and even less insight. At the same
time all this gaga technology worship is fortunately
posing new threats to the cohesion of our physical
communities (which we don't really care about all
that much in the first place, except when the Prez
blows into town for a nationally televised wonk

Clearly, our current wave of way-cool high-tech
technology is a global daisy chain into which we all
feel the urge to merge. This group chooses, as its
method of cutting in line, to blather. And we have
assembled a star-class group of blatherers that in
the very recent past would have been doomed to
writing press releases for Citicorp, but who now
have a whole new gig: "technology criticism" (aka
‘technocrit' because it just sounds so cutting edge
we can stand it) .

Despite the ridiculously complicated and always
contradictory implications of technology, the
conventional wisdom is as woefully simplistic and
shortsighted as this manifesto. Pundits,
politicians, and self-appointed visionaries such as
ourselves get lots of exposure when they try to
reduce these complexities to breathless tales of
either high-tech doom or cyber-elation, or talk
about the evils of doing the same thing, or indeed
talking about how it really isn't that way at all.

Technocrit: since nobody knows what it is, anybody
can do it.

In any case, "technocrit" is the perfect literary
endeavor for the D'Oh Decade. It is the kind of
mind-pabulum that our media machines love to pump
into the endless slots on all-news-all-the-time-
whether-you-need-it-or-not networks. Such emissions
lead to dashed hopes, unnecessary snack food binges,
outbreaks of corporate memo writing, and email lists
where we all get to trot out our baggy-assed
insights as much as we want. This prevents us from
understanding our own culture, which is probably a
good thing since if we were to understand our
present-day culture as it really is we would loathe
it much more than we already do. But their primary
function is to keep us from noticing that far-out is
not in-deep. That is a very relaxing situation.

Over the past few years, even as the mind-numbing
debate over technology has been rammed down the
throats of millions who really couldn't care less,
and has been characterized as dominated by the
louder voices at the extremes in order to give it
some sort of news hook, a new, more balanced
consensus has quietly taken shape in the boardrooms,
educational institutions, and policy wonktanks that
seek to profit from the whole high-tech cheese
platter. This document, one of at least six billion
similar paeans for moderation on critical issues
from artificial anthrax to zippy-the-pinhead seeks
to blather on about some of the shared beliefs,
values, and needs for funding, fees, and book
advances behind that consensus, which we have come
to call technoblatherism.

Technoblatherism is as harsh a mistress as the moon.
It demands that we think and write superficially at
paralytic length about the role that technofools and
interface-obsessed individuals think they play in
human evolution and everyday life. Integral to this
perspective is our observation that the current tide
of technological transformation, while relatively
unimportant and impotent when faced with starvation,
ignorance, disappearing environments and species,
human greed, hate, and the unrestrained selfishness
that is known as the free market system, is actually
a ripple on the oceans of change that have taken
place throughout history but still seems mighty big
to those of us bobbing here in the trough.

Looking, for example, at the history of the
automobile, television, or the telephone -- not just
the devices but the banal institutions they became -
- we see profound benefits as well as substantial
costs. (And hope that you'll fail to notice what a
cliche that one really is as well as how ignorant of
history it reveals itself to be. It is the glory of
technoblather that once we get you nodding over the
glass like the drinking bird you won't really think
about what you are reading. Indeed, we are counting
on the fact that you'll probably just scan this bit
of blather and we'll get away with this one Scot
free. )

Similarly, we anticipate mixed blessings from
today's emerging technologies (If you are paying
attention, that's cliched statement number 14, but
you're just scanning so what do we care?), and
expect to forever be on guard for unexpected
consequences -- which must be addressed by
thoughtful design and appropriate use. (We put that
in because we hear it a lot on CSPAN.)

As technoblatherists, we seek to plant the seeds of
Morpheus and batten off the fertile middle ground
between techno-utopianism and neo-Luddism by getting
the kind of deal and book tour Esther Dyson got for
her little quickie. We are technology "critics" in
the same way, and for the same reasons, that others
are food critics, art critics, or literary critics.
Utter unemployability. First of all, we can't think
of anything else to do and, second, because we can
spew out any old thing and get it sucked up by
credulous editors as well as harassed television
producers frantic to fill 2 minutes at 4:18 AM. We
do not have to "discuss the Good, the Beautiful, or
whether or not something is True. We only need to

In addition, we can be passionately optimistic about
some technologies, skeptical and disdainful of
others and nobody will really be able to tell if
we're right, wrong or just blathering. Still, our
goal is neither to champion nor dismiss technology
but to blather. We do not want our blather to have
any real position, but rather to apply it in a
manner more consistent with basic corporate values
and whichever way the wind seems to be blowing in

Below are some devolving basic principles that help
explain technoblatherism in greater detail that you
every thought possible. Internalizing them will
allow you to give keynote addresses to Intel's
stockholders meeting. So chug a triple espresso and
try to make it through the night. Remember, as a
wise mean once said, "once you believe you are
sincere the rest is easy." With a little effort you
may even fool yourself.


1. Technologies are Switzerland.

A great misconception of our time is the idea that
technologies are either free of bias or have no
bias. That's because in this age of moral relativism
nobody, but nobody, who values his or her chances
to own a Porsche and a second home wants to take a
stand, one way or another, on anything. The smart
money in this day and age waffles on everything and
doesn't talk hard truths about real issues unless
they are a professional comedian and allowed, like
the motley fools of old, to speak truth in front of
the Kings of Capital. We're certainly not going to
risk our butts by shoveling seaweed against that
tide, especially over a silly issue like technology.

Far be it from us to say that technology (especially
the kind that keep tech stocks afloat and the stock
market propped up by promoting large amounts of time
wasting "searching," porn surfing, inane email notes
and generally turning most people into their own
overworked secretaries) is a bad thing. Nope. You
didn't read that here.

On the other hand, tech is way-cool and let us tell
you about our grandchildren's palm pilots.

On our third hand, technologies come loaded like
sleazy dice with both intended and unintended
social, political, and economic leanings which are
really hard to write about in a way that you'll
agree with so we'll just pass on by saying: "Every
tool provides its fools with a particular manner of
seeing the world and specific ways of interacting
with others."

Memorize that because it will be an answer to a
question on your next Microsoft job interview right
after the urine and blood tests, which will give
your employers a particular way of seeing into your
world and your interactions with others. It is
important for each of us to consider the biases of
various technology corporations and toady to those
that reflect our cash-flow needs and aspirations to
positions of influence over our fellow man. And we
hope to do this without alienating anyone and to
keep the cards, letters, and offers coming in. For
this reason, we hold that technology is not
something about which you can say: "Rules? In a
knife fight?" but rather, "Technology is as
threatening as Switzerland."

2. The Internet is naturally Dystopian in both
design and effect.

The Net is an extraordinary method for promulgating
communications drool. As such it provides a range of
new opportunities for people, communities,
businesses, and government to blather and goof-off
without ever having to get anything done in the real
world. It is a global Congressional committee with
150 million members. It also provides large numbers
of people who were once thought of as kooks who
couldn't get a job in the Circus the ability to
spout absolute nonsense and get taken really, really
seriously. On the Internet we are truly all
Drudgers. And as Technoblatherists, we revel in

Yet as cyberspace becomes more polluted, it
increasingly resembles society at large, in all its
inane complexity -- except for the fact that you
don't really have to deal with this "society," you
can just disconnect at anytime you want, and don't
you wish your jobs, bills, obligations and
relationships were like that? For every single
empowering or enlightening aspect of the wired life,
there will also be at the very least 10,000
dimensions that are malicious, perverse, or rather
ordinary, but all of which can blather with the
best. So point, click, cut, paste, send and scan. Do
your part in doing nothing. A nation in deep denial
needs you. Scan more, comprehend less.

3. Government has as an important role to play on
the electronic frontier: it needs to butt in, slow
down, control, roll out the pork barrel, give Al
Gore something to do with his time in the White
House waiting room, seek out the pedophiles among
us, pry into your private life, suck up to big
business and, in general, really fuck things up.

Contrary to some claims, cyberspace is not formally
a place or jurisdiction separate from Earth, only
most of its inhabitants. In fact, we note that the
whole notion came from a pretty-good but fictitious
science fiction novel and was promulgated by aging
hippies for whom all of life these days is pretty
much of an LSD flashback.

While governments should respect the rules and
customs that have arisen in cyberspace, and should
not stifle this new world with inefficient
regulation or censorship, it is foolish to say that
the public has no sovereignty over what an errant
citizen or fraudulent corporation does online. To
begin with, if it moves over modems, tax it. If it
is personal information, put it in a public
database. If it is in code, crack it. If it is porn,
print it out and pass it around in the Senate so
everyone can get a good look. As the representative
of rich families and companies and the guardian of
Harvard Business School values, the state has
compulsion to integrate cyberspace and conventional
society by keying all an individual's online
activity to their social security number and sending
10% of each citizen's after-tax income to Microsoft.

Technology standards and privacy issues, for
example, are too important to be entrusted to the
marketplace alone. Jesse Helms, Bill Clinton and all
state and local governments need to have a say.
Competing software firms have little interest in
preserving the open standards that are essential to
a fully functioning interactive network, but what
the hell. Markets encourage innovation, but they do
not necessarily insure the public interest. Why they
should we don't know, but it sounds good.

4. Information is not knowledge, but who knew?

All around us, information is moving faster and
becoming cheaper to acquire, and the benefits are
manifest. With email you can get every get-rich
quick offer ever invented. Twice a day! With Usenet
you can acquire 2 gigabytes of porn a day without
ever having to spend a penny. With the World Wide
Web you can have bad design, bad news, and bad
writing delivered into your brain with a backhoe.

That said, the proliferation of data is also a
serious challenge to sanity, requiring new measures
of human discipline to ignore. We must not confuse
the thrill of acquiring or distributing 800 light
bulb jokes quickly with the more daunting task of
converting them into knowledge and wisdom. Wow, that
would be a big job and require us to leave our
monitors and get some real experience in the real
world. Boring. Please pass the clue bong.

Regardless of how advanced our computers become, we
should never use them as a substitute for our own
basic cognitive skills of awareness, perception,
reasoning, and judgment. For that we already have

5. Wiring the schools will not save them and has the
added advantage of keeping us from spending real
money and time to fix them.

The problems with America's public schools -- stupid
teachers, dumber students, planned under funding,
social triage, bloated class size, buildings without
roofs, automatic weapons, lack of standards, self-
esteem seminars, and cafeteria food -- all trace
their roots to previous efforts to introduce the
technology-du-jour into the school system.

Consequently, this technology will be no different
and will continue the educational disaster created
and sustained by Presidents Reagan, Bush and
Clinton. The art of teaching cannot be replicated by
computers, the Net, or by "distance learning," but
is so much cheaper that it is sure to be funded --
so send those "essential study proposals" in while
they're handing out the grants. These grants can,
of course, augment an already high-quality
consulting income. But to rely on them alone as a
means to purchasing a seaside second home in Hawaii
would be to remain boatless in a yachting community.

6. Information wants to be cut-and-pasted.

It's true that cyberspace and other recent
developments are really fucking with our copyright
laws and frameworks for protecting intellectual
property, not to mention the fact that it can remove
intellect from property at a rate previously only
dreamed possible. Although the ultimate answer will
be to scrap existing statutes and principles, we
can't really say that here without damaging the
career paths of a million policy wonks. Instead, we
must -- as our charter dictates -- blather on about
updating old laws and interpretations so that
information receives roughly the same protection it
did in the context of old media until the horse is
out of the barn and across the meadow and those who
battened off of the old copyright laws are really,
really screwed.

Our goal as Technoblatherists is to distract
authors/owners into believing they really have
sufficient control over their work so that they have
an incentive to create without realizing how badly
they are about to be ripped-off. We are also hard at
work maintaining the right of the public to rip-off
information at will and in mass quantities.

7. The public has for decades been conned into
thinking that it actually owns the airwaves; the
public should be allowed to continue in this
delusion for as long as possible.

The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters
didn't just happen but merely extended a long run of
exploitation and connivance between big business and
big government at the expense of clueless public.
The formula is simple: They get billions, you get
MTV. This is a gravy train that nobody wants to
stop. The giveaway underscored the corrupt and
inefficient misuse of public resources that is
traditional in the arena of technology. The
citizenry must be kept clueless about the real
profits from the use of public frequencies through
weapons of mass distraction by keeping as small a
sliver of the spectrum as possible for the
"showmedia" of educational, cultural, and public
access uses. We should demand more for private use
of public property, but at the same time understand
that it just ain't gonna happen.

8. Understanding technology should be an essential
requirement of global citizenship or you don't get
no T-1 access or a free T-Shirt with the Windows 98
logo on it. Yes, there are rules. No, you are not
allowed to know them.

In a world slogging through a turbid flow of
information for reasons that nobody really
understands, the bad interfaces -- and the
underlying bug-ridden code -- that make information
far too visible are becoming enormously enervating
social forces. Promulgating this stuff as quickly as
possible keeps the souls of the world fat, happy,
barefoot and pregnant. Such a deal. By helping this
move ever forward, by becoming a Technoblatherist
and participating in the creation of the ever
expanding pool of Internet fools you too can get your
piece of the action. Remember that these fools have
immense purchasing power and offer a lot of income
enhancing potential. We should subject them to the
same marketing scrutiny as the great blatherists who
brought us the War on Drugs and George Magazine.

We don't know about you but we're setting blather-
phasers to numb, strapping on our surge protectors,
and jacking-in to
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