technology development

Entertainment to mediocrity

Finally I could have a break from the hectic schedule at the beginning of 2012.

This afternoon I was on the train back home from work. I usually read with my Kindle the whole time on the train. But today I was a bit exhausted of focusing on every word in the line of Schopenhauer all the time since sometimes it could be quite distracting on the train with the noise from other people and the train itself. So I stopped reading and started to lose myself in the universe of musing. As I unconsciously gazed around, I quickly discovered something way more interesting and started to observe people’s behavior in the train. It was a one-hour-trip, and guess what most of people were doing nowadays in the train?

8 out of 10 people (of all ages) were busy bowing down to the extreme and staring at their tiny little phones as if that 3~4 inch screen of magic gadget has inexplicable magnetic field to drag their eyes closer, closer, and closer…

In fact, I recall when I was having lunch today with my colleagues they were exactly doing the same thing, leaving me alone eating my sandwich “ordinarily and in a fully committed manner”.

Whatever they stared at, it is absolutely irrelevant, forgettable, and worthless.

I am not here lamenting about the increasing distance among people nowadays and ranting on the abuse of virtual device for it. That’s just cliche. What I really thought sad was the fact that people nowadays were wholeheartedly swamped by the wasteful and absolutely unnecessary entertaining information all their spare time (esp the younger generation).

It’s simply amazing to see how fast the entertaining business self-magnifies in our civilization in the past few decades:

20 years ago the presence of TV, which was already considered the then greatest threat to the intellectual enlightenment of the society, only “compelled” people with enormous retarded pictorial information when they were at home. I suppose most people could still have their own time while away from home. 10 years ago there was the massive proliferation of internet, which overtook TV as the major source of entertainment in a blitz manner. The amount of wasteful and irrelevant tabloid gossips simply jumped more than tenfold of that from the TV. I guess humans must have sickly obsession for the garbage information intake. Since the era of internet more and more people have spent more and more time in front of their computers, even at work (everyday works with computers nowadays and everyone checks random stuff that you would forget one second after at work on the internet for nothing other than meaningless entertainment/time-killing?).

Nowadays, as the zeitgeist represents: the plague of smart phones all over the world (even in places like Africa). The ultimate objective of the entertaining business has finally achieved (next step is… the dream?). People are finally overwhelmed with unnecessary overloading information with their entertaining gadgets ALL THE TIME.  (The screen, however, does get smaller and smaller…)

Of course I believe everyone’s excuse for having a smart phone (excluding those hipsters!) is to use it as a productivity boost for our everyday life. I, myself, have a smart phone as well for this purpose. But how many really makes their life more productive with such device? And how many hours have you killed straight with your smart phone at the same time?

I really have to give credits to the development of the entertaining business. It abuses our vulnerable psychological flaws to the fullest. The entertaining technology, as I categorize it (TV, video game, internet, smartphone etc.), most of the time just serve the purpose to trap us with higher and higher level of addiction to the business itself without realizing it. This entangles us mortals forever in the wonderland of mediocrity. With dull, repetitious, and mechanic office work that most people spend most of their day time, we are already being retarded in our intelligent potentials. And this is not enough. With the ultimate entertaining technologies we are even stripped off the very last remaining moment of being ourselves. When could we ever have the time to rejoice the enrichment of solitude, reading, or even contemplation? Alas, but what we have been stripped off from this hypnosis are exactly what has prompted the advancement of our civilization all along.

People already lost the prudence for rational reasoning, logic. It is already getting increasingly difficult to educate the public of something that is a little bit beyond the immediate appearance of the objects. Social Media, Art, Music, Literature, Religion, and especially Politics, are appealing for those who knows the tricks of charlatans: psychology and signaling. Quoted from Schopenhauer, who still claimed at that time humans would respond to motives rather than causes (inorganic) and stimuli (plant and animal), the difference being humans use reasoning to use “will” to respond beyond the immediate intuitive response to the physical cognition (emotions being a high level of stimuli in such taxonomy). I dare to paraphrase this assertion to be more applicable for the brave new world: people are repressed with their reasoning capabilities submerging in the ocean of information solely for the purpose of entertainment. Hence human “will” merely degrades itself into a superficial reflection of immediate intuitive (like the interface nowadays: intuitive) and emotional response of the surface of the consequence, for we barely have the precious time and virtue for intellectual cognition now.

In this endless ouroboros, we do not grow wiser nor our civilization advances much further other than in the entertaining business. Immediately it reminds me of Neil Postman and his famous claim: “Amusing Ourselves to Death“…

Most people just never get it.

Modern Luddite in Europe

For those who are not familiar with the term “Luddite“, it is an interesting social movement that took place in the early 19th century’s England, where textile artisans went on the street to protest and sabotage loads of mechanized looms in the factories. Those mechanized looms were seen as the devil that took away their textile jobs and therefore became the target of those angry unemployed artisans. At the same time, the invention of mechanized looms in early 19th century marked the start of the epic industrial revolution in England. The productivity of the society skyrocketed exponentially and the structure of the society altered dramatically along with a rapid advancement of technology in every aspect. From then on, mankind stepped into the most glamorous golden age that continues ever since.

There are many ways people interpret the Luddite. Some focus on the class conflict, some on the worsening livelihood of the workers, etc, and some people (including myself) view the Luddite as the founding ancestor for all the anti-development/anti-technology social movement that has been growing to achieve another eruptive momentum. I’ve been trying to figure out a name for those people. One of my friends suggest to call them “Amish wannabe”, I couldn’t agree more. So let’s refer them to the Amish wannabe here.

Where is the modern luddite? It’s everywhere in Europe, at least nowadays. Among all of the different sects, environmentalists are the strongest breed. What do they do? They often attack the very demerits of modern technology and development and compare to the most primitive scenario, which basically to them is the Amish lifestyle or even more primitive than that. Nowadays a farmer should only produce food without fertilizers or pesticides so that the food could be organic and sustainable; electricity should be only from the wind or the sun as concentrated massive scale of electricity generation synthesizes too much CO2 and that’s bad for the environment… But those Amish wannabe, who mostly come from affluent countries with no idea of the real nature, tend to ignore the fact that there is a reason why we use fertilizer and pesticide in the first place, and why fossil energy and nuclear energy (with the exception of hydro power) was favored over the wind and solar technology many years ago and why people start to build centralized electricity grid….  Not to say that modern development and technology is perfect, but as a realist I’d rather to face those environmental side-effects of modern development with more feasible and rational choices, such as more coordination of the global food production and the development of efficient fossil fuel combustion, nuclear fusion or even hydrogen to replace the current massive electricity infrastructure (wind/solar could only play minor roles in the future due to the intermittency and efficiency ratio of the power generation).

But Amish wannabe tends to not listen, and in fact, they make the loudest voice and complaint, regardless if their logic of argument stands. Since the current democracy system always reward the one who shouts the loudest, they tend to prevail in modern Western society. One great example is the absolute denial of nuclear science in Germany -> the phase out of all German nuclear plants by 2020 . Instead of solving the problems rationally, German politicians reward the noisy Amish wannabe with the decision to totally shut down one of the greatest technology in 20th century. Not to even mention that the potential of nuclear science is enormous and it is likely to be the dominant energy source for humans in the long term future (we could even create a SUN and go to other planet with that). I support the upgrade of nuclear, but a total ban of nuclear is nothing but luddite. This backward step is likely to cause two serious consequences -> 1. Germany irresponsibly create huge energy production burden and increase of electricity cost on the European energy market as renewable is far from filling the gap of the nuclear, and probably even more energy reliance on Russia, putting the economy of the whole Europe in jeopardy; 2. Germany could be happy with the wind and sun as much as they want, but others will be the winner to master fusion or hydrogen to obtain the key for eternal energy supply and science superiority (pity for the germans).

This is the case where the environmentalist gained rewards from shouting out loud, but what if the politics did not reward them? This is another very good example of how Amish wannabe react to the disagreement of their opinions: A few days ago a continuous demonstration against the construction of  a tunnel in Northern Italy that connects a planned new high-speed rail connecting Italy and France escalated into a bloody violent riot. Amish wannabe turn extremely violent against anything they think it’s against preservation. Their argument is mostly based on the belief that a tunnel might destroy the scenic value of the nature and destroy the vegetation on the construction site; whereas a new high-speed rail could bring way better stimulation to the crumbling Italian and French economy and even in long term reduce the use of automobiles and emit less pollution and CO2 in long run.

Modern luddite in Europe prevail. We could understand that probably those textile artisans were ill-educated breed who can’t figure out the mechanized looms but demonizing the machines and fear of change. But why modern luddite still exist and get more power in the computerized information era? As far as I could understand, technology improves and upgrades, it doesn’t mean that everyone gets smarter than before. People get more informed these days, but most of us couldn’t really comprehend and digest all the information. Therefore theories and speculations prevail. Especially for the case of technology development, as most of people do not really get involved into this process, they could hardly understand the importance of those sophisticated inventions and designs. While most of the people do not have the level of intelligence to fully appreciate an artificial object (let’s say a teleport gate in the future), they tend to focus on the uncertainty of introducing a new thing into the old world, that is to fear and resist. I recall Robert Conquest’s three laws of politics to further explain the incentives of modern luddite:

1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.

3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies. (This one fits the best to Amish wannabe’s attitude towards technologies)

In my conclusion I think the Amish wannabe will always exist. But whether they could stall the technology advancement of not, is a question that could be answered in the future. At least in Europe, I think so. Let’s just amuse ourselves to death.