NM 6.2 – Interaction is Banal

I would say it’s anything but. Well. That depends on the company of course. Sure, every-day interaction might seem banal, but I think that all you have to do to make it interesting is to pay attention. Here, I risk, reverse engineering the same machine logic of the people who want us to fuse with machines, or imbuing human interaction with the necessity for some sociopathic, Sherlockesque observation. It need not be so, but i think, by trying to understand what people say and why, or trying to see things, even a plain old transaction at a shop in the wider context of how and why, can make things infinitely – well, far more at least – interesting.

Society is not banal. Our thoughts are. Things are not boring, they have cavernous contexts and contingencies to explore. Banality comes when we stop watching and just look. Breathing is not boring, it assists with the transport of oxygen to the fascinating organisms that live on planet earth. Nearly every living object needs to breathe. This is not banal. It is a fundamental characteristic of nature. To me, that is interesting. But only if you’re paying attention.

Mardy also speaks http://www.mediafactory.org.au/mardy-bridges/

NM 6.2 – The Ten Dreams of Technology

I think the poem ‘All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace’, by Richard Brautigan is an excellent way to sum up a lot of the ideas in TTDoT. Having gone through my own techno-utopian phase, I’m well acquainted with the ideas…

This commentator on the all poetry blog said:

Cornus – Richard nailed it. It’s the only possible future for humans upon Earth that does not contain a great extinction of life. The idea has been around for a while, Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’. Humans organizational competency ended in the early Bronze Age. Any form of government beyond clan and tribe has ended in failure because humans are the weak link. Conscious machines, ever more capable than humans, are the planets only hope, not humans.

Me: Childhood’s End is a wonderful book. Full of occult symbolism with a dark but fascinating message. A must read for all dreamers.

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

NM 6.1 – Actor Network Theory

Latour and Actor-Network Theory:

Latour draws a distinction between the mechanical, engineered network, that is the dominant mode of understanding networks, and what he calls an ‘actor-network’. He also dispels the notion that ANT has anything to do with the study of social-networks, a misapprehension under which I was most certainly labouring – extending the metaphor to all  of society, non-human actors included.

Latour then suggests that networks can be understood as having multiple dimensions with as many nodes as there are connections. LT makes the interesting point that networks do not require an ‘aether’ through which to operate… perhaps this is to finally dispel the mechanical characterisation of a network. Unlike the classic idea of the network, the network of the ANT can exist without a substrate.

“A network notion implies a different kind of social theory”… the egalitarian hopes of techno-utopians are always lovely sentiments but quite often, when it comes the machinery used to control networks, we are at the mercy of powerful and not always benevolent actors, consider the companies implicated in PRISM as a reference. But, this is me falling towards the ‘substrate’ idea that LT just removed from the equation.

“The granting of humanity to an individual actor, or the granting of collectivity, or the granting of anonymity, of a zoomorphic appearance, of amorphousness, of materiality, requires paying the same semiotic price”. All is one and one is all? Sure. I like that. What I believe LT means here is that trying to separate, actors/networks/society/pastrami sandwiches from one another is a falsehood and deceptive. All things are connected, a product of networks… I believe that human categorisation functions as part of, not apart-from the larger world we inhabit – but after or simultaneous to... the place we inhabit, not before. I may be repeating myself here. And may be wrong. Just writing thoughts as they occur doesn’t necessarily lead to anything worthwhile reading. Am I a Deleuzian? Or just deluded? I don’t think narratives exist without human observation, but once observed, can only exist. Nothing observed is without narrative. “There is no difference between explaining and telling how a network surrounds itself with new resources”. Yes and yes.

Perhaps the gap between semiotics and what LT calls scientism, is not a gap but a matter of relative diffusion? Apples will always and inevitably fall from trees but a stop-sign, will always mean stop, whether we believe the stop-sign as open to interpretation or not. And so on down the path into ever greater abstraction and interpretation, our thoughts pull back from the sharp-end of materialist philosophy, negotiating each other and ourselves till we’re awash in the great ocean, alone in the superstitious and mystical universe of the inner-subjective. Now do we have absolute signs and meaning by collective agreement or hard, scientific-fact? Both?  Are they contingent on the specific universe they inhabit? There might be somewhere in the multiverse where apples, sometimes, fall upwards.

Esther also speaks http://countingletters.wordpress.com/

An oldy but a goody – Travel Writing

Greetings all, I will refrain from the usual pleasantries regarding group emails etc and get on with it.

but first

In the fashion of the modern world and peoples lives being tied so intimately into the realm of self-aggrandisement via the life-affirming medium of  the internet, in which we prove to the world, and to ourselves – the inherent awesomeness of our existence, perhaps we can all agree that the group email is merely a more old fashioned but more welcome form of ‘status update’.

Please forgive that introduction as i spent 10 hours on a bus today and am subsequently a little tired, not to mention the numerous philosophical overindulgences over the course of this trip. Also, the overly florid language can be attributed to the fact I am currently most of the way through ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, an invaluble travelling companion that has, after the fashion of all great books managed to invade my dreams as well as my waking thought.

So, without further ado i would like to congratulate all of you who have made it this far into what will be (mercifully) my one and only email regarding this account of my temporary displacement from the Babylonian zoo known as Shanghai.

Our story begins with an overnight train journey from Shanghai to the ancient capital Xian where upon arriving in the hostel it became apparent that I would never find the thousand yard stare, contract the tropical disease, or be held at to ransom on the point of a spear> Events which having survived, would render me beyond all reasonable doubt, the most interesting person present at any future social gathering. Laptops flickered in unison and wireless broadband presented itself as the new kaftan, the missing piece in the authentic backpacker experience. I retired, somewhat disillusioned to my beautifully laundered sheets to sleep soundly and uninterrupted by parasites. Next day we rode bikes around the city wall in the sun and took in the famous “courtyard of the gormless tour group” followed by the world renowned “pavilion of the additional entry-fee”.

Next day, we went to that thing known the world over as the the terracotta warriors, built by some nutter, possibly to provide the unimaginative some pre-packaged worldliness. So I took some photos and felt slightly more cultured than if I’d looked for it on Google Image. The Great Wall is something which inspired feelings of awe, the warriors were far less inspiring than the amazing beef noodle soup we’d had for lunch the day before.

Fortunately we can now dispense with the cynicism (nearly) and move on to what has been my favourite thing so far. Two hours flight from Xian and you are in north-west Sichuan. Jiuzhaigou National park, a UNESCO world heritage sight and possibly the most beautiful place i have been in my life. I will not attempt to describe it except to say that if Disney had invented nature, it might look something like Jiuzhaigou. Transcendent beauty on a scale impossible to comprehend without actually being there and impossible to do justice with words or a camera. Never mind the hordes of Chinese tourists ruining all their photos by standing in shot. I call this one ‘me being delicate with water’ or ‘me demonstrating size of waterfall’ or ‘peace sign in front of lake’… you get the idea. We did manage to find solitude at many points and having paid handsomely to get in, walked the entire forty kms from top to bottom where at no point did I manage to become accustomed to the sights.

Bus to Songpan. Rode horses through Tolkienesque valleys in which Yaks frolicked and goats pranced amongst fields of buttercups. Onwards up mountains to heights of 4500 meters in which misfortune may have cost you the use of your extremities had you fallen off. Good natured larrikins for guides, lots of conversation concerning bowel movements, getting wet, playing Chinese poker. Great times.

10 hours to Chengdu over earthquake ravaged highway. Our last experience at ticking the boxes (Xian) left us decidedly cynical so we decided to “F&*^ the Pandas” and instead, got cheap massages and an absolutely outstanding Sichuanese meal. 50 AUD for our temporary  party of 5, WITH BEER and more deliciousness than is right for mere mortals to consume. Value that won’t laze itself to extinction. Twats.

One day too many in Chengdu due to earthquakes in Yunnan. Had our one and only fight (re: travel arrangements) then got a 33hr sleeper bus to Lijiang taking a tour of China’s most disgusting rest stops on the way. Lijiang is a touristy version of ‘Ye Olde Chinae’ but is the jumping off point for Tiger Leaping Gorge and despite being a little tacky, has a great bar with an outstanding view over the “old town”. Tiger Leaping Gorge is 3 hours of uphill agony to the less fit (me) but thouroughly rewarding when the clouds clear and the road levels to lead you under peaks that would inspire vertigo in giants and over a river that has the ferocious intensity of a… lion. We spent an extra day due to its overall pleasantness and also because the guesthouse where we stayed had a terrace.

10 hours on two buses and…
Now I am in a hostel in a place called Tengchong.  A sleepy town town near the border of Burma and Tibet in Yunnan province. Tomorrow we will lounge in volcanic hotsprings and the day after (weather permitting) take a hot air balloon over a volcanic reserve. After that we will lose one third of our three (Susie) and Paul and I will venture further into the heart of darkness.


NM 5.2 – Panel

In the panel today I did a lot of talking. Trying to wrap one’s head around the finer points of artistic databases can be taxing but I think I came away with slightly more understanding than before. I’m a little baffled by most students’ assumptions that because we’ve been given a reading, the author is correct and must be taken at face value, but then again, I would say that. Iconoclasm runs in the family like a degenerative disease.

In summary, Seaman good, Manovich bad.

I really enjoyed the tangents today about videogames and such. Hearing about the ‘Eve Online’ conflagration that occurred because of an unpaid bill was very entertaining… half tempted to check it out, but very unsure about adding more strings to the bow of my Candy-Crush and Scrabble addictions. I must confess, I am about to take the EVE-O personality test. Probably better to give the old eve-o before starting anything but hey… turns out I’m a ‘manufacturer’. How enlightening!

NM 5.2

Manovich is symptomatic of the classic techno-determinist. “We are, because computers”. To my mind this is putting the cart before the horse. Some want so desperately to escape the crude bondage of the physical form that they will invariably try and fit the data to the model.

“Computer games both mimic existing games, and create new genres”. Don’t people create the new genres? And do the mimicking? Manovich also speaks of the “computerisation of culture”, but isn’t it really a “culture of computerisation”? Arguing semantic points with a computer programmer may be a waste of time, but I take exception to the insistence that it is us who resemble the machine world, rather than the other way round. Computers might represent our desires, to be efficient, brilliant and hard-working but there has been no magical evolutionary jump whereabouts we became ‘like them’. This is not simply pro-biological hubris, we use the metaphors to explain the pre-existing. Networks and databases can be used to explain how human beings might function, but we do not necessarily become the metaphor, just because it might feel good to say so.

In the sense that human evolution can be viewed as a combination of ‘programs and algorithms’ -because, like dude, the universe is all maths – I agree with Manovich, but if anything I believe it reinforces my previous point. Programs and algorithms can explain evolution but evolution did not happen like it did because we discovered programs and algorithms. In other words, our resemblance to computers – to whatever extent this might be true, or not – is already the function of a pre-existing condition, a way that is irrespective of whether or not the computer is there to hold up the mirror. The computer, or the program, or whatever you like, is another metaphor for explaining what is already there. I would ask the question, ‘why are we so desperate to be like the machines’? Anyway… moving on…

Manovich makes the point that data itself is active. This resonates strongly with me as I struggle to see any passive principle in nature. Even the rock holding itself together is a form of Will, of resistance, but active does not have to mean intentional and perhaps this is where the confusion comes about.


In contrast to Manovich, I find myself immediately in agreement with Seaman as he quotes, “The poetic of computers lies in the genius of individual programmers” and that “computers are in the service of individual expression”. The notion of database poetics  sits much more comfortably with me than the idea of hypertext narrative having any validity.

One piece of information that my brain is having less trouble assimilating is the concept of the rhizome. As I understand it – a whole that contains the whole of its potential but only manifest as specific variations on the available theme.


NM 5.1 – Panel

Perhaps in a mirroring of the diffuse and evolving theory of networks, Eliot suggested that there isn’t a single, definitive idea that can be gleaned from the readings. Eliot brought the discussion back once more to M McLuhan, talking about how the more general a theory is (eg technological determinism) the less it tends to describe specific scenarios.

Vanessa seemed to be right in saying that network theories are importantly, only theories, and as suggested by Potts, avoid definitive categorisation.

Does technology ever function independently from us? I don’t believe so. I see technology as our demon-child, maybe rogue but always and irrevocably ours. I see the distinction between human and technology as a matter of scale, just because we don’t understand sociology in the same way as say, a desktop computer, doesn’t invoke the mystical by necessity.


another short-story

In the first few days of the event, rumours airborne and virulent spread and mutated amongst the rubbish strewn cities. Shaken from agnostic comfort, placard-toting multitudes clashed ejecting broken bodies on which bird and rodent sat now feasting and unafraid. The looting and pillaging variety of self-styled pragmatist canvassed department stores and supermarkets, liberating their treasures like a cyclone might liberate people from their homes. Amid wailing and gnashing of teeth, one man, in regards to the last packet of fun-size Mars Bars ever to be made on planet earth, engaged a surprisingly wily and strong Croatian grandmother-of-eight in a battle that he won, eventually, by stabbing her in the face with a packet of Tobelerone.

The most pervasive and popular rumour, was that capital-G God had caused the event to happen. Despite the roving doomsday cults, blood remained absent from the moon and the clattering hooves of the equine quartet failed also to materialise. Another rumour, almost as popular, was that a sinister and All-Seeing arm of the military-industrial-complex engineered the chaos from which they would emerge as the saviours of humanity – promising Order in return for the total control of every man woman and child. In facts that could not have been known to those arming themselves against these would-be future tyrants, many of the prime candidates were themselves trampled or wearing cultish bed-sheets, hoarding ill-gotten baked beans and wringing their hands as the last of their candles flickered into darkness.

Gerald didn’t pretend to know why it happened. The event. It had, and here he was. Within a week, cabin-fever and hunger gave Gerald the will to venture from his now sustenance-free apartment, littered with empty packets and containers, a domestic mirror to the prevailing aesthetic. He now slunk, black-clad, through his neighbourhood as a summer sun disappeared behind the collected artifice of what resembled, but no longer contained civilisation. Alerted to the presence of an argument and dropping sharpish into the cover of a wrought iron fence, Gerald chanced a look round the corner, thick-rimmed glasses and balding, squarish head obscured by an agapanthus. Two knife-wielding pragmatic types were getting ready to engage as leopard seals might, chins raised, free fin, or hand, splayed in confrontational bravado. From all fours, Gerald looked on and after a short but fearsome battle, the two men, resembling a certain type of quantifiably violent nature, brought about each other’s death with simultaneous knives in the chest and fell leaking onto the pavement. Scanning the immediate scene for, possibly, people, Gerald clambered up and tiptoed to the pair. One lay glazed and immobile, the other sat and bubbled indignantly.

Parked next to the bloodied pavement was a large, diplomatic-looking 4WD filled with what was immediately obvious as very high-end camping gear, tools and what might well have been, and were, neatly packed boxes of food. Gerald circled the vehicle with a growing sense of interest. This prompted some energetic bubbling from the man who, through a furious gargle, betrayed himself as the owner. Gerald cocked his head birdlike and looked down at the man with what he hoped was an expression of mild concern. This only seemed to make the bubbling worse and having weighed his options, Gerald decided to take the practical course of action, standing at a safe distance till the bubbling was no more. Luckily, his low-heeled boots prevented large amounts of seepage as Gerald rifled the pockets of the former bubbler, then keys in hand, backed away from the recently deceased and slipped, planting one hand in the red and the other on the dry pavement. He felt the gore go quickly through his trousers and the bottom of his shirt and he scrambled up as if covered in spiders, hopping slightly to shake the invisible arachnids. Holding out his one red forearm as if it were no longer his own, he wiped it on the median strip then did that left-right-over-the-shoulder self-inspection thing that everyone in the world has had occasion to do for one reason or another.

Gerald looked around once more and decided that all was clear, so rather than wear his half-soaked jeans he took them off and stood semi-naked in his bloodied underwear. He gave his arm another thorough back and front on the grass, then pushed the button on the keys for the 4WD which blinked in acknowledgement of its new owner. Gerald climbed into the driver’s seat and threw his jeans into a damp, crumpled heap on the passenger side. The next step was obvious. Get out. But to where? Somewhere with running water. Somewhere with shelter from the elements. Somwhere without starving, kaftan wearing nut-jobs and newly minted psychotics. This had all happened so fast, he wasn’t exactly sure what to do. And he’d never been camping before. Ever. Gerald was a child of the city, born and raised. He was 34. A social-media professional. He had 4,753 Twitter followers and 1496 Facebook friends. Each status he posted got an average of 31 likes. He had 3482 followers on Instagram. His blog, ‘Coconut Vegas’, where he reviewed and analysed various sub-and cultural phenomena, had a regular readership of nearly 9,500 world-wide. ‘Had’ being the operative word. Past-tense. Gerald’d carved out a modest but glamourous living as a minor-celebrity-blogger. Now it was gone.

Gerald’s life had been the screen and as a consequence, he was in that way familiar to certain demographics, totally and hopelessly addicted to the internet. There wasn’t a corner of the www that it wasn’t Gerald’s business to know. Everything from 11111111111111111111111111111111111111.com to Zor.de, to Christie Sims and her dinosaur themed erotica. He lived and breathed it. Every ‘liked’ status and re-Tweet. Every re-share. Every fan, every troll crushed, every witty remark on somebody’s photograph, every time he was published in the paper, every single hit-single on his blog. Gerald absorbed it all, it made him powerful, alive, bigger. He inhaled bits and hypertext and spat them out as content, opinion and analysis to be gobbled up by his hungry disciples. At times he felt as if he were himself part of the machinery, that his veins were the Ethernet cables and his flesh silicon, his brain a network of micro-processors transmitted omnipotent into the glowing interfaces of laptops and smartphones all over the world. He had readers in New York, London, Berlin, even Beijing.

It hadn’t been easy since it all went down. It wasn’t just hunger that had drawn him out of his cave. This very afternoon, the emergency AM broadcast loop that received on what amounted to his methadone – a vintage crystal-radio – went dead and the silence descended, penetrating him like the sickness, the bird, the invisible ants under the skin. He needed the internet, badly, but for now, immediate necessity dictated terms. He knew he was a junkie but he didn’t care. His enablers needed him. They needed him to be that person, so they, in dull moments over a beer could impress their friends with his wit and laugh together in worldly self-congratulation. In a sense, Gerald believed he’d conquered the modern world. He knew others thought purely in terms of captions and status updates, but he got paid for it.

Now he was sticky and sitting in a psychopath’s 4WD under dead streetlamps. Gerald turned on the cabin light – something which unnerved him as it prevented seeing out – and rummaged through the glove box. A map, good. Turn the keys in case you need to leave in a hurry. Quickly. A full-tank, excellent. Ignition. Lights on low-beam. The jerry cans on the roof were probably spare fuel too. He knew how to get out of the city easily enough so he looked over the map and picked a national park with a river. It would have to do. What would happen when he got there? He didn’t know but he was sure that staying in the city was worse. He estimated a two hour drive. Gerald stopped by his flat to throw clothes in a bag, towel, cutlery, his kitchen knife, odds and ends, he hurried. He daren’t leave the car alone for more than a moment. He farewelled the streets of his life for the last time, exiting through the ghostly outer-suburb of his childhood and out onto the uncertain freeway of his future. Two hours later, Gerald rumbled slowly down a well-kept dirt road into Stony Creek Gorges national park. He stopped in the empty campground near the river. Too late to do anything, he tilted his seat back and drifted off, exhausted.

The morning interrupted a dream where Gerald was on a panel show talking about a website where you can upload a photo of your face and graft it onto a celebrity of your choice. It was called ‘Look! I’m dating Brad Pitt!’ The sun was already hot and flies harried the tinted windows. Getting out of the 4WD revealed a rocky escarpment framed by tall, dry-smelling eucalypts. Twenty meters away, a river wandered by, it looked clear and cold but fresh. Dragonflies pottered in their dignified way. Gerald unpacked the car and found everything he’d hoped. Briquettes, grill-top, tent, mat, sleeping bag, tools, boxes and boxes of long-life food – enough to last months if used wisely, tarpaulins, ropes, mattock, spade, a watering can, twine, first-aid kit, a large box of lighters, pots, pans, an axe, tongs, kettle, stoker, a wind-up torch, a crossbow. He hadn’t needed to bring anything after all, except clothes and possibly his kitchen knife. Surely that would come in handy. There was one more bag buried amongst the haul, it was heavy and he lugged it onto the open and now empty boot, the rest of the bonanza spread haphazard about the place. Gerald unzipped it and felt, maybe for the first time in his life some sense of providence, of being looked after, of destiny, even. It contained several books with post-it notes marking what had been deemed important pages. Edible Flora of the Australian Bush, The Bushman’s Handbook, Survival Camping – by former S.A.S officer Mark Bolton, Seasonal Planting, Harvesting and Preserving, The Gardener’s Bible, Going Native, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. He smiled. Scattered in the bottom of the bag were maybe 100 packets of assorted seeds, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, eggplant, lettuces, potato, carrots, celery, kale, silver-beet, radish, pumpkin, cucumber, rice, wheat, beans, oranges, peaches and plums. There were others too, but you get the idea.

One month later, Gerald was thin, bearded and dirty but alive. His clothes, mostly black or white had lost or gained shades as appropriate. The barbeque pit was well used, though mostly for canned goods. The tarpaulins were strung artfully for maximum protection and utility. Having paid close attention to the wisdom of the books, Gerald had built what looked to be a fairly functional place of residence – no, he’d done a pretty damn good job if he did say so himself. If only his followers could see him now. #survivalist #goingbush # truevintage #beargryllsaintgotnothingonme. There were seedlings in germination and the beginnings of a vegetable garden. Sepia filter? #truesettler. He’d been extra careful with his food intake. So far he’d shot one Koala with the crossbow but the meat was so vile he’d charred it past the point of recognition. Nor was skinning things entirely pleasant, but it’s amazing what you can learn to do. Amazingly, improbably, everything seemed to be under control.

Gerald’s surprising aptitude for doing it tough had left him with a bit too much free time. His daily routine managed to keep him fed, but it only took a few hours and as Gerald saw nearly everything framed in the feedback look of his former life, he missed it more and more.  His body ached for contact, digital contact, to be back immersed in the ocean. His inbox, full of hate mail, fan mail, jobs, links, his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds. Gerald spoke aloud, to remind himself he was still here. If you had assumed that the trials of post-apocalyptic survival would serve as a kind of purgative, a panacea, an apomorphine for his former life, you have through what may be the fault of the author, underestimated just how truly connected Gerald was. After two months in the wild, Gerald held symposia on network theory and whether or not a techno-deterministic interpretation of the Arab-Spring was merely the rehashing of a post-colonial narrative. The conversation went for several days and the log, and the pile of river rocks with which he’d chosen to debate, eventually came to see his side of the story. He built a cargo-cultish camera out of bark, tied together with string, its lens the decaying eye of the koala. He imagined himself as a panoptic security apparatus in charge of maintaining order for the rustic superstate of Stony Creek National Park. Subversive bushes and troublesome left-wing stringybarks were felled and burned in the interests of National Security. The garden, thanks to the literature, was coming along well and Gerald painstakingly arranged lunches and cornucopia to be photographed, #bushcooking #gourmetswagman #jollyjumbuck #outback #radvegan #organic #losingmyfuckingmind #dreamtime #anybodyoutthere

One morning, standing in the shallow banks of Stony Creek, shirtless wiry and bedraggled, Gerald noticed a most curious phenomenon. As he held his arm up in front of the water, it was as if, no, he could see through himself. He was fading away. Literally. Almost at once, Gerald’s burgeoning insanity grasped what a healthy mind would have understood only and incorrectly as hallucination, as the beginnings of madness, not as the actual, physical reality that this, apparently, was. Needing confirmation, Gerald held an emergency panel with Rocksencrantz and Logenstern. After spirited debate on the relationship between trees, forests, observers, quantum physics and the digital-self in relation to the wider community, they agreed, unanimously, that despite an ample supply of food and water, Gerald was in actual fact, disappearing.




NM 5.1 – Culture and Technology

Potts, in the introduction to his paper, ‘Culture and Technology’, introduces the argument that after the 19th century and the advent of the phrase, ‘Industrial Revolution’, society has looked increasingly to technology to provide literalist metaphors for systems that might not have a direct correlation to what we understand colloquially as ‘technology’, eg: the brain as computer, or more recently, society as a ‘network’. Potts also says that the meaning and import of the word ‘technology’, has been contested by different groups who seek to control its meaning – the word ‘technocrat’ having positive and negative implications depending on the speaker.

Potts uses William Barret’s sentiment to describe the importance of ‘techniques’, skills, that are in themselves technologies and how the advent of their loss would mean our great pile of physical technology would be reduced to junk. This relates closely to themes explored by John Michael Greer, in his blog, ‘The Archdruid Report‘. Greer is an outspoken advocate for the preservation for certain sustainable, low-tech skills such as short-wave radio and has written at length about what he sees as the coming age of scarcity, brought about by dwindling resources and the inevitable collapse of the architecture that comprises the current Anglo-American way of life. Greer criticises both what he calls the ‘cornucopians’ (those who believe in the ever onwards and upwards trajectory of technological progress) and those obsessed with the apocalypse, always seeking to find what he would see as the realistic middle ground between the two – a low-tech, sustainable future based on greatly depleted resources. I believe Greer makes a convincing case for his arguments, citing numerous historical precedents for the rise and fall of communities. It was Greer who inspired me to read Spengler’s iconoclastic ‘Decline of the West’, a book dangerously ahead of its time, even if many of the ideas are now redundant.

Back to Potts. Potts makes a case that the literature written to describe technologies as metaphors for society should be as fluid and constantly changing as the technologies themselves. This is a point that resonates strongly with me, but the need for certainty and perhaps the investment of time and or money in certain ways of ‘doing’, could impede this worthy goal or perhaps simply that culture is now seen as “messy, confused and riven with contradictions”. If the like of Greer and Spengler prove correct, constantly updating the literature might be akin to rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.