• Machinations

    Having a dig at technology’s a familiar game. For ninety-nine percent of the population it usually smacks of hypocrisy or reversion to some almost reactionary form, to the point where no one bothers anymore; the things machines can do for us present such an undeniable logic that any dissent’s already tantamount to heresy. And yet there is often a sense that all our shining gadgets - which seem to preoccupy much more of the collective consciousness than the fact that the ice sheets are rapidly melting – all too often come with more than the obvious price tag.

    There’s a sense too - if we consider for a moment where we all might be in a decade or two’s time - that current sureties should not be taken for granted, that even if things bumble along much the same, there is a great deal now at stake and the degree to which we can imagine something different, the clarity with which we can diagnose what does not serve the highest good may make all the odds in delivering a better future, or at least steering clear of some of the worst possibilities.

    So perhaps it’s not too idealistic to hope for a day when we might be content with less ambitious acquisitions, when we might seek to fall back on older currencies that can sustain us. Such human traits and qualities have still not left us even if at times they seem submerged or even if we sometimes seem terminally distracted by mirages of technology that offer so much but often serve to mask the riches that still lie within us and will never leave, even if we might need some reminding.

    Is it productive then to rehearse more formally the drawbacks of our glittering screens – the footprints there for unknown agents to pursue, the inbuilt costs, the unseen toil of other hands in other countries who know nothing of safeguards for the people put to work? Do we need reminding of the huge costs ecologically? Or of the way in which the net and its constant feed of urgent news, it’s habit forming drive to direct us to new links and new windows can affect our concentration and even our consciousness itself? This is apparently proved by a much greater reluctance or capacity for paying attention to books or even long articles with the kind of deep reflection and singularity of intent such activities were once more associated with.

    The world has changed, children must be prised from mobile phones before they sleep and can we ask is this the culmination of our hope and aspiration, are we all held in suffrage to machines? And even then some all-out-all-or-nothing seems enflamed when viewing all the gifts computers and the internet appear to offer: the way in which they have connected people, the huge amounts of information made available so easily, even their more democratic effects. But there’s surely at least a case for moderation, for better use, for more discerning application of the gifts that they can give us. Although the sense remains it may be better to hold some other skills in tandem, to not feel so bereft should technology desert us or should electricity become a thing whose steady flow cannot be always taken as a given.

    In his book ‘The Eco Technic Future’, John Michael Greer talks of a thing called ‘scarcity industrialism’ whereby the industrial world carries on in a broadly similar fashion to how it does now, only accounting for the relative scarcity of fuel with which to operate. This means operations being carried out while introducing every possible efficiency – a long way away from the profligate use of energy in many industries today. On a personal level this can be mirrored by our habits as consumers: we can seek to get the most life as possible out of every appliance and develop habits of consumption that place a pride in reclamation and repair – lightyears then from many current patterns of built-in obsolescence and mounting piles of mobile phones as the latest editions are placed on the market.

    But the extent of how we may be in danger of losing our way and the necessity of finding our way back can be measured by more than looking at our patterns of acquisition of the latest thing. How many of us hold within us still the old ability to sit down and compose a letter without the aid of cursors or ubiquitous functions of spell checks, cut and pasting or the strange seductive comforting effect of glowing screens? How many people still can engage with any mathematics without some form of digital pad? What other skills go squandered in our service to these double edged heaps of circuitry? What gypsy is dependent on a plug, and how then do we calibrate our dreams? Even expansive emails seem old fashioned in the wake of one-click-says-all all pervading social media.

    How many of us are a little more unapproachable as we sit cocooned and earphoned up on public transport, opportunities for interaction slipping away unlooked for and unnoticed, the once familiar skill of striking up a conversation now a little more removed, each of us more separate, cut off, imprisoned in our little universe, the so-called walkman generation now like sanitised, too-familiar versions of the figures on architectural drawings where we are all factored in to some remote designer’s new world order; anaesthetised, predictable, obedient consumers in a system that is more than any grand design; as if there was a kind of raw and cold intelligence of the machine itself; always seeking to calibrate a thing that it can never understand: our human minds, our hearts.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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