Directive from the Borg: Love All Technology, Now!

I don’t know about you, but when I look around, it seems to me, that we live in what may be conservatively labeled a technology-friendly social environment. If that seems like a reasonable estimation of the situation to you, then, it would appear, that you and I are out of touch with reality. Or, at least, this is what certain people in the tech world would have us believe. To hear some of them talk, it would appear that the technology sector is a beleaguered minority fending off bands of powerful critics, that Silicon Valley is an island of thoughtful, benign ingenuity valiantly holding off hordes of Luddite barbarians trying to usher in a new dark age.

Consider this tweet from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

Don’t click on that link quite yet. First, let me explain the rhetorical context. Andreessen’s riposte is aimed at two groups at once. On the one hand, he is taking a swipe at those who, like Peter Thiel, worry that we are stuck in a period of technological stagnation and, on the other, critics of technology. The implicit twofold message is simple: concerns about stagnation are misguided and technology is amazing. In fact, “never question progress or technology” is probably a better way of rendering it, but more on that in a moment.

Andreessen has really taken to Twitter. The New Yorker recently published a long profile of Andreessen, which noted that he “tweets a hundred and ten times a day, inundating his three hundred and ten thousand followers with aphorisms and statistics and tweetstorm jeremiads.” It continues,

Andreessen says that he loves Twitter because “reporters are obsessed with it. It’s like a tube and I have loudspeakers installed in every reporting cubicle around the world.” He believes that if you say it often enough and insistently enough it will come—a glorious revenge. He told me, “We have this theory of nerd nation, of forty or fifty million people all over the world who believe that other nerds have more in common with them than the people in their own country. So you get to choose what tribe or band or group you’re a part of.” The nation-states of Twitter will map the world.

Not surprisingly, Andreessen’s Twitter followers tend to be interested in technology and the culture of Silicon Valley. For this reason, I’ve found that taking a glance at the replies Andreessen’s tweets garner gives us an interesting, if at times somewhat disconcerting snapshot of attitudes about technology, at least within a certain segment of the population. For instance, if you click on that tweet above and skim the replies it has received, you would assume the linked article was nothing more than a Luddite screed about the evils of technology.

Instead, what you will find is Tom Chatfield interviewing Nick Carr about his latest book. It’s a good interview, too, well worth a few minutes of your time. Carr is, of course, a favorite whipping boy for this crowd, although I’ve yet to see any evidence that they’ve read a word Carr has written.

Here’s a sampling of some of Carr’s more outlandish and incendiary remarks:

• “the question isn’t, ‘should we automate these sophisticated tasks?’, it’s ‘how should we use automation, how should we use the computer to complement human expertise'”

• “I’m not saying that there is no role for labour-saving technology; I’m saying that we can do this wisely, or we can do it rashly; we can do it in a way that understands the value of human experience and human fulfilment, or in a way that simply understands value as the capability of computers.”

• “I hope that, as individuals and as a society, we maintain a certain awareness of what is going on, and a certain curiosity about it, so that we can make decisions that are in our best long-term interest rather than always defaulting to convenience and speed and precision and efficiency.”

• “And in the end I do think that our latest technologies, if we demand more of them, can do what technologies and tools have done through human history, which is to make the world a more interesting place for us, and to make us better people.”

Crazy talk, isn’t it? That guy, what an unhinged, Luddite fear-monger.

Carr has the temerity to suggest that we think about what we are doing, and Andreessen translates this as a complaint that technology is “ruining life as we know it.”

Here’s what this amounts to: you have no choice but to love technology. Forget measured criticism or indifference. No. Instead, you must love everything about it. Love every consequences of every new technology. Love it adamantly and ardently. Express this love proudly and repeatedly: “The world is now more awesome than ever because of technology and it will only get more awesome each and everyday.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

This is pretty much it, right? You tell me?

Classic Borg Complex, of course. But wait, there’s more.

Here’s a piece from New York Times’ Style Magazine that crossed my path yesterday: “In Defense of Technology.” You read that correctly. In defense of technology. Because, you know, technology really needs defending these days. Obviously.

It gets better. Here’s the quick summary below the title: “As products and services advance, plenty of nostalgists believe that certain elements of humanity have been lost. One contrarian argues that being attached to one’s iPhone is a godsend.”

“One contrarian.”

“One.”

Read that piece, then contemplate Alan Jacobs’ 70th out of 79 theses on technology: “The always-connected forget the pleasures of disconnection, then become impervious to them.” Here are the highlights, in my view, of this defense of technology:

• “I now feel — and this is a revelation — that my past was an interesting and quite fallow period spent waiting for the Internet.”

• “I didn’t know it when I was young, but maybe we were just waiting for more stuff and ways to save time.”

• “I’ve come fully round to time-saving apps. I’ve become addicted to the luxury of clicking through for just about everything I need.”

• “Getting better is getting better. Improvement is improving.”

• “Don’t tell me the spiritual life is over. In many ways it’s only just begun.”

• “What has been lost? Nothing.”

Nothing. Got that? Nothing. So quit complaining. Love it all. Now.

12 thoughts on “Directive from the Borg: Love All Technology, Now!

  1. One “filter” for the responses you might see on Twitter, when it comes to reading Andressen’s tweets, is he blocks those that challenge his almighty proclamations. So, you won’t see much “challenge” in his Tweetstorms. Borg Complex indeed. He is the poster child for it.

  2. Yup. Pretty much. And the position of the tech sector, talking like it’s persecuted and beleaguered and under siege reminds me of the attitude that Germany had in the 30’s, as it bullied and bludgeoned and annexed a whole continent, all the while complaining about how endangered it was.

  3. Thanks for this. Part of what drives this, I think, is the belief by technologists that they have the solutions to all the world’s problems: everything issue on the planet is something that can be solved by the Masters of the Universe, if only everyone else gets out of the way. How else would we wind up with a phrase like “permissionless innovation”? This ideology is so strong, that even modest critiques, about whether we should do something or if we should consider the cultural and social ramifications of tech solutions, are seen as an affront.

  4. Science, technology and the attendant “progress” have indeed become a bona fide religion. At least the faithful can claim it’s a form of polydeism?

    There are those who insist that our salvation will be achieved through technology. They apparently “believe” our problems can be solved with more of what caused them. A form of technological “faith healing“?

    The end result of human progress will be the premature extinction of the species. Progress = ecocide.

    The creatures we call dinosaurs dominated Life on Earth for over 200 million years before succumbing to natural forces beyond their comprehension. They had nothing to do with it and no clue as to what was coming. Not their fault. Could happen to anyone.

    After a paltry 200 thousand years, the human species, as “modern man“, teeters on the brink of extinction as a result of its own anthropocentric hubris and recklessness. Nobody’s fault but our own. And “science” with its attendant “progress” is how we did it.

    Homo sapiens was indeed a unique evolutionary experiment. Quite probably it’s the only species that will disappear into oblivion understanding exactly how and why and despite having had the ability to easily foresee and forestall that event.

    We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance.”
    George Carlin

  5. For those of us who remember installing Netscape in the early 90’s and the magic almost transcendent feelings it imparted it’s easy to harbor at least a little gratitude toward Marc Andreesson. He might not have invented the Web but he certainly played an important role in making it more accessible and democratic and for that we owe him something. It’s hard then to reconcile those feelings with his tweet feed or the portrait Tad Friend assembles in his New Yorker article. He seems groundless on some level having (apparently) severed all connections with his mom and dad and brother back in the mid-west. Moreover, he seems to cultivate a level of condescension that is at least as caustic as Steve Jobs — at least if his use of expressions like “There are no stupid questions, only stupid people” hold any indicative power. All this said he seems to have experienced a few set backs in the failure of Ning and in the crash of the dot.com bubble:

    “The overwhelming message to our generation in the early nineties was ‘You’re dirty, you’re all about grunge—you guys are fucking losers!’ Then the tech boom hit, and it was ‘We are going to do amazing things!’ And then the roof caved in, and the wisdom was that the Internet was a mirage. I one hundred per cent believed that, because the rejection was so personal—both what everybody thought of me and what I thought of myself. I was not depressed, but I was growly.”

    One might think that having lived through the above would have curbed the illimitiability of his hubris, and made him perhaps a little more receptive to people like Carr. But the takeaway for Andreesson was something else. It didn’t teach humility or an appreciation of technological limits, instead it taught him that his prescience was too far in front of the crowd. As he put it in respect to the dot com crash: “I was not depressed, but I was growly. In retrospect, we were five or six years too early.”

    I still feel a sense of gratitude for his work on Mosaic and Netscape. And the world would be a little monochromatic if we forced everyone to take on the sentiments of the Luddites. On the other hand he really does seem to have adopted some of the more distasteful and condescending airs of Steve Jobs. And his inability to dwell on the regressive social effects of technological progress is perplexing.

    1. Luddites

      It’s always easier to cast aspersions, in the form of name-calling, than it is to face a terrible reality.

      Normalcy bias is a bitch, a very seductive, demanding and domineering bitch.

      The normalcy bias, or normality bias, refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.

      1. I would hope at least in the context of this web site that we’re not using ‘Luddites’ as a simple label or way of casting aspersions. In common parlance that is how the term is often used. But that doesn’t mean we are all using it that way.

  6. “While war, slavery and religion had once been necessary, they would not always be so; in the future only science could guarantee human progress” – Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man, 1872

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