Tag Archives: habituation

dispensable and scarce

Just a quick subtweetish sort of blog post, here, to note that the more times people start an essay or article or academic paper or blog post with a phrase along the lines of “[d]igital platforms and the online services that they provide have become an indispensable and ubiquitous part of modern lifestyles, mediating our jobs, hobbies, patterns of consumption and forms of communication“, the more reified becomes the supposed indispensability and ubiquity that is supposedly being critiqued.

Just fucking stop it, OK? Farcebork is not indispensable; Scamazon is not (yet) ubiquitous. But conceding in your opening line that “well, they probably will be, so maybe some gestures toward regulation (in a system where regulatory capture is a significant part of the problem) would be good, please, sir?” is to have thrown in the towel before you even step into the ring.

Every time I hear someone talk about the indispensability of Farcebook in particular, I think of junkies queuing for their methadone: “I wanna quit, I really do, but it’s too hard, all my friends are still using it”. Well, if that’s really the case, stop sitting around and fantasising about regulating your dealer; this idle chatter of ressentiment while you wait for Your Man is a big part of his hold over you.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this is not to to make the equally fallacious argument that “we can do without technology!”—though if anyone in this audience is still making that sort of argument, I’m not gonna waste my time explaining why its both stupid and hypocritical.)

(For the further avoidance of doubt, I’m generally sympathetic to the work of that paper’s lead author, and indeed to most of what the paper actually argues. But that doesn’t change my fury at the implicit capitulation of that opening line. Language shapes social reality; the more you describe the worst parts of our social reality as inescapable, the harder it becomes to escape them.)

revenge effect

From the conclusion section of Carabantes, M. (2021). “The Coronavirus as a Revenge Effect: The Pandemic from the Perspective of Philosophy of Technique”. Science, Technology, & Human Values. https://doi.org/10.1177/01622439211008595

The main goal of technique is freedom. We use it to free ourselves from the burdens imposed by nature, such as getting food and shelter. However, modern technique, because of its five essential characteristics of universalism, self-augmentation, automatism, autonomy, and monism, tends to extend its control over everything, including the human being, to ensure the optimal efficiency of the whole system that we demand. If this control condition is not satisfied, and human freedom is not limited in the way technique requires, then the result will be the loss of efficiency because we are interfering in its functioning; and this efficiency may be critical when technique is introduced in order to neutralize some of the worst unwanted consequences of technique itself, such as global environmental issues, enhanced terrorism, and fast worldwide pandemics. Therefore, modern technique calls, under threat, for the establishment of a centralized and authoritarian organization of humanity. Thus, the paradox arises: modern technique as a whole entails a revenge effect because the search for freedom results in the loss of it. Our ingenuity turns against us.

If we want the comfortable material life provided by industrialism but do not want severe environmental degradation, then we need this kind of organization. If we want the popularization of robotics to democratize technique and to empower the people but do not want devastating terrorist attacks, then we need this kind of organization. If we want goods and passengers to travel fast and cheap in airplanes all over the world but do not want pandemics like the current one, then we need this kind of organization. In sum, if we want the many benefits of modern technique but at the same time want to avoid its often-disastrous side effects, trade-offs, and revenge effects, then we need this kind of non-democratic organization. From these and many other cases, it follows that Ellul’s (1964) prediction seems correct: modern technique leads to a new kind of slavery.

Looks like I’ll be adding Ellul to the infrastructural-theoretical reading list; I think this author’s use of slavery is a little strong, but habituation—my preferred term—seems like it would swap in well.

Indistinguishable from magic? Extractivism, the infrastructural metasystem, and the obfuscation of consequences

This is a video-paper I prepared for a virtual conference called Extraction: Tracing the Veins, running this week under the aegis of the Political Ecology Research Center at Massey University, NZ and Wageningen Univeristy, NL.

My paper is a part of the Technology & Infrastructure panel, and if you think mine sounds of any interest at all, then I’d ask that you go and give my co-panellists the same attention you would grant to me.

You can leave feedback and questions on the panel’s webpage if you want to, or drop a comment here, or even leave one on the Y*uT*be page for the video if you prefer.

It was an unusual experience, producing a video for a conference paper—not really so different a process in terms of writing the piece and developing the slides, but recording and editing the script and compiling the video was an interesting new challenge. It feels a little amateur, but I suspect that’s a legacy of having been a sound engineer in a former life: all I can hear are the cheap production values, and the hurriedness of a project completed in the run-up to a relocation. BUT: it’ll be easier and faster next time, and hopefully I’ll have more time to plan and integrate the production into the drafting of the actual paper itself. I have a feeling that there’ll be a lot more of this sort of work in academia in the near- to medium-term future…