Microreviews from the Realm of Technology
One of the more intriguing things about what we vaguely call technology is not what it can achieve, but how we perceive it in many and varied ways. We can embrace change and its sometimes dubious ramifications, take up the new tools of our times, or we can stand back and watch as our expectations shift. We can also shout angrily at the mute gods of permanence, demanding that they bring back what we knew and loved.
Constantly we stand on the daunting threshold of the new.
In that spirit of change I’ve banished last week’s microreviews to the dedicated page. Their counterparts this week, now in the sidebar, were inspired by a range of reactions to technology – my own, of course, and those of people around me. In a follow up to my earlier post on the limits of copyright, I’ve also been reading the emotionally charged work of Andrew Keen, the Cassandra’s Cassandra when it comes to all things participatory on the Internet. In 2006, Keen grouped Larry Lessig, the Stanford law professor who sits on the board of Creative Commons, with those he labelled “intellectual property communists”.
I’ll feature Keen’s Cult of the Amateur in detail next week because I think there’s still much to say in defence of the collection of new technology bundled under the somewhat mysterious rubric ‘Web 2.0’.
For now, the first book I’ve featured this week seems to be an almost perfect defence against any new-media doomsayer. Finally in an English version after 6 years thanks to MIT Press, Patrice Flichy’s Internet Imaginaire takes a broad social and historical view of technological change. Unlike Keen, who sees the nefarious hand of Silicon Valley millionaires behind the destruction of traditional media, Flichy identifies the collective participation and vision that brought about the Internet in the first place.
It seems almost passé to mention that we are always, all of us, accomplices of technology. Even the most technophobic amongst us live, work, love and thrive in an era of rapid computer-based change. But that sort of change has ever been with us. The Romans with concrete, the Chinese with paper, the English with the steam engine, the Americans with the personal computer – each place and each age offers a new wonder with which we can re-interpret the world.
Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Ex Machina comic series encapsulates that persistent dynamism. Published under DC’s creator-copyrighted imprint Wildstorm, the series will eventually run to 50 issues and cover the first four years in office of Mitchell Million, New York mayor, retired amateur hero and the biological carrier of an alien technology that allows him to talk to machines. He’s something almost, but not quite, like a Doctor Dolittle of the Cyber Age, with Vaughan constantly drawing out the difficult politics of the situation, magnifying the ways in which life – the past, the present, the possible future – is grounded in uncertainty and change.
But, of course, most of us lead lives a little more mundane than an ever-troubled New York Mayor (or the most recent ex-Governor, it seems). Blogging is one of our more popular interfaces between the present and what we presume of the future. Michael Banks coveys that nicely in the collected interviews he recently published as Blogging Heroes. Sneak past the cringe-worthy title and introduction and you’ll appreciate what the volume has to offer. But, as I mention in the sidebar, beware the layout, which is a major drawback.
The layout of Wired Magazine’s print edition is also a problem, even more so than that in Banks’ book. It could quite possibly be an exemplar, the exemplar, of the tawdry visual culture that has snuck from the Internet to the news-stand. The content is first rate, informative and often provocative, focusing on technology and society in a way that will reverberate long after you finish reading. But the layout is diabolical, gaudy and ultimately pointless. Until sanity prevails I truly hope more people read the clash-reduced online version, or better still the news page.
From positives to negatives and at all points in between, technology is never singular and our perceptions of it are fittingly multiple, varying with each circumstance. Perhaps that’s why this is such a puzzling world.