Fri Jan 26th, 2007 at 09:03:33 AM EST
The filthy rich and their sellout lackeys would like us to believe the notion that technology, its forms and its uses, are inevitable and socially neutral. They will all roast in the deepest pits of hell for their filthy lies and we will certainly ignore anything they have to say. On the other hand, the notion that technology is inherently neutral but that its development and application are manipulated by the rich and powerful in order to dig in their razor claws into all walks of life is very widespread among the intelligentsia. Now, the fact that technology can be, and is, twisted by those in power in order to benefit themselves is very well documented. But, is technology inherently neutral?
[extracted from Social Implications of Technology by kind permission of myself]
As it turns out, technology is not inherently neutral. All technologies have certain affordances, certain features that cause them to enable certain usages better than others and, this is the key, these usages may be political in nature. So for example, the entirety of firearms technology is suited uniquely to murdering people. And just as the affordances of firearms technology make it inherently evil so too other affordances make certain technologies either inherently oppressive or inherently liberating. And while it is possible to force an oppressive technology to be neutral or to turn a tool of the rich and powerful into a tool of the masses, the inherent natures of the technologies remains unchanged.
With this in mind, we turn to the important question. What is it that makes a technology a tool of the rich and powerful? A technology is such if its cost is high. Conversely, a technology is a tool of the masses if its cost is low. The reason why this is so is simple. Because capitalism is dysfunctional, producers are perpetually at the mercy of customers unless truly extraordinary measures are taken by government to protect producers.
As a consequence, when the customers of any given technology are the poor, the titular owners of the technology are at the mercy of the poor even if they themselves are rich. This is so in the case of phone technology. The converse also holds true, as is demonstrated in the case of fashion designers, butlers and other servants.
Note that customers aren't the same as consumers. The consumers of newspapers are their readers (the poor), but their customers are advertisers (the rich).
Newspapers are tools of the rich and powerful because a daily costs $2-$3 x 365 days = $730-$1095 a year (the price of a daily covers but a fraction of its cost). That's the price of a computer nowadays, and a computer can easily last up to 3 years without becoming obsolete. For $2190-$3300, you'll get an excellent computer and between one and three years of broadband. In addition, computers get you much more information than a single daily, in an infinitely more accessible, convenient, and anonymous manner. So for the cost of a single daily, you get a networked computer that can also deliver music, movies, games and applications. The economics of newspapers simply do not make any sense, except of course as vehicles for state and elite propaganda. We would be talking about what people euphemistically label 'respected opinion' and 'advertising' respectively.
Robert McChesney explains that once newspapers were inexpensive and took on the heavily "biased" flavor that we see with today's blogs -- owners wore their biases on their sleeves. At some point, they became more expensive to create, and choice dwindled to the point where a city might have only a couple dailies. Since such bias stank when there was little competition, journalism schools were created where "professional journalism" was taught. This carried an ideological bias in favor of "official sources" like politicians and businessmen; and journalists would be accused of injecting bias whenever they attempted to provide context along with their reporting. (There do exist useful ideas from professional journalism, but it has very damaging effects which keep the press from fulfilling the role of effective watchdogs. Many have noted that democracy requires an effective watchdog press.)
Public transit is a tool of the masses because it costs between $1000-1500 a year, or $2 per hour, including subsidies and capital construction. In contrast, an automobile costs $5500-7000 a year in direct costs and a further $7700-10,000 in indirect costs. Now, the $2 per hour is probably only operating costs so with other costs that brings it up to $3-$4, but the per-hour costs of an automobile is $40 assuming an average speed of 33 mph. That makes car usage a cool 10x more expensive than mass transit which is itself a cool 10x more expensive than bicycling. And bicycling has the advantages of being much more available, more accessible and vastly healthier. This is exactly why automobiles are tools of the rich. Additionally, automobiles serve as an obscure and overcomplicated means for the rich to literally suck lifetime from the poor.
The internet itself is a powerful tool for organization, for CHEAP organization. The rich and the powerful have never had any trouble organizing themselves, all it requires is manpower & money. Well, there's no shortage of craven power worshippers and eager sellouts hypnotized by the lure of the filthy lucre. The number of people that obediently chant Heil Mein Fuhrer when Dubya commands "go forth and murder" is testimony to this. Cheap organization is something new. This has very important implications.
The most important consequence is that it is becoming impossible to marginalize a majority of the population by disorganizing them. So the traditional organs of the rich, the media, the management, and the sell-out unions, will become increasingly less effective, possibly disappearing entirely. Another consequence is that otherwise completely marginal groups can organize into small but effective groups. All the hoopla about the long tail of market distribution is about exactly this; organizing otherwise completely marginal groups.
We can also observe the Rupert Murdochs figuring out how to extend their media monopolies to the net. (http://www.newscorp.com/news/news_247.html)
Some argue the Murdochs fantasies' aren't the same thing as reality. There is a very long history of various agencies trying to push through totalitarian control of the internet, with consistent failures and equally consistent bewilderment among the totalitarians about why they are resisted.
- <tool for the poor>
- <tool for the rich>
- condoms: $0.50 to $1.00 each, for < $500 / year
- drugs: $2000 + doctors + reduced lifespan + intensive care + other social costs
- pay the social costs
Long-distance passenger transport
Long-distance cargo transport
- digital cameras & editing software
- video cameras
- film cameras
- private companies (eg, HMOs)
- negative interest (illegal)
- positive interest
- worker self-management (Soviets, Syndicates, Shoras)
- white collar totalitarianism (Capitalism, Bolshevism)
- class warfare
- class warfare (pigs and jarheads)
- agrarian land reform
- Structural Adjustment Plan
- Community Land Trust: eliminates speculation, disinvestment and overinvestment
- private capitalist market: kicks out working blacks in favour of white yuppies who can plonk down a million dollars (5-10x) for a property
- shifting demand to off-peak hours
- nuclear, hydro [update]
- oil, gas; the global warming costs of past usage may easily climb into the tens of trillion USD range
[Update: nixed solar, added an exception to wireless]