Another quote from The Noonday Demon:
"...we live in an era of dazzling, bewildering technologies, and we have no concrete grasp of how most of the things around us work. How does a microwave function? What is a silicon chip? How do you genetically engineer corn? How does my voice travel when I use a cell phone as opposed to a regular phone? Is it real money that a bank machine in Kuwait deducts from my account in New York? One can research any of these particular questions, but to learn the answers to all the small science questions of our lives is an overwhelming task. Even for someone who understands how the motor of a car works and where electricity comes from, the actual mechanics of daily life have become increasingly obscure."This reminded me of Cool Whip. Why? Because I recently read Power Failure: Christianity In the Culture of Technology. In the initial essay in this collection, Albert Borgmann serves up Cool-Whip as an example of "opaque" technology. He lists the ingredients of Cool Whip...
Water, hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oils, corn syrup, sugar, sodium caseinate, dextrose, polysorbate 60, natural and artificial flavors, sorbitan monostearate, xanthan gum and guar gum. Artificial color.this food technology offers to us the convenience of whipped cream without having to procure the cream and the other ingredients and then go to the trouble of whipping the stuff ourselves. This, Borgmann says, is the nature of technology...
"All of these attractive features can be gathered under the notion of availability. … Nearly everything that surrounds a citizen of [advanced industrial society] exhibits the opaque and commodious availability of Cool Whip and rests on a sophisticated and unintelligible machinery."
(The concatenated quote is someting I found cited in this article by Andy Crouch in which he formulates a connection between Borgmann's book and a book by Robert Farrar Capon called The Supper of the Lamb. Supper is something about which I will certainly have something to say in a future post. One could say in fact that this whole coffee and writing series is heading home for supper, after a fashion.)
It isn't that Bormann, or Solomon is anti-technology. Decidedly not. In fact, both admit their dependence on it to do their work. Solomon even implies that his work as a writer would be incomprehensibly difficult apart from certain forms of technology.
The point is that technology's role in the life of our society can be and often is as an inhibitor of connection. In Crouch's article, he says it succintly, "So disburdenment comes at a price, that of 'disengagement.' "
It is disengagement that concerns me, not technology. There are obvious ways in which technology encourages engagment. Take for example, what I am doing right now. One of the reasons I have taken up blogging is the possibility for engagement with people I would never otherwise meet.
Of course, as Solomon and Crouch note, everyday technologies exact a price proportional to their opacity; putting ordinary schmoes in a position of dependence, almost obeisance. I could offer examples of this, but if you regularly deal with any kind of recognized common technologies (like computers), you probably have many of your own. The dizzying array of technologies in suprisingly common places, like our food, exacerbates the consequences of choice. As Solomon writes...
"You are in the realm of uncertainty even when you select your own dinner. This kind of escalation of choices in not convenient, it is dizzying. When similar choices present themselves in every area...the result is a collective uneasiness that explains much, in my view, about the rising rates of dpression in the industrialized world."
Of course, my interst lies less in the area of depression--notwithstanding my own experience of it--than in the idea of connection, in other words, community: how is it cultivated, and sustained, what is its origin (or perhaps I should say Who), and most importantly, what exactly is it? But I'll have more to say on this later--not that you really want to hear it, but I really need to write it down.
My apolgies in advance for future ennervating posts.
Jannotti tag: psyche