Archive for October, 2015

A Luddite states the obvious

October 14, 2015

From Todd Kilman’s review of “Steve Jobs:  The Man in the Machine” for The Washingtonian

The serious artist and the successful businessman could not be more fundamentally different in their aims and approaches. The businessman endeavors to give us what we want, devoting hours upon hours to researching the various shifts in the marketplace and spending great gobs of money in the process. The serious artist, heeding an inner dictate, gives us what we don’t want—disturbing us, shaking us from our complacency, waking us up to the truth before our eyes.

Yes, the differences are obvious, and yes, we constantly need to be reminded of them.  Framing Steve Jobs as an artist erases the subversive power of art.   What Jobs and other post-industrial entrepreneurs offered isn’t a new way of seeing.  Their devices have merely advanced a deeper dive into the consumer cycle that delivers experience quicker, faster, and shinier.  But what is the experience being delivered by a smart-phone, a gps device, a tablet?  It’s one mediated by what an internet site decides to provide, information designed to sell something, to take something from you be, it money or some less tangible energy.  When we spend large tracts of time peering at the world through a tiny screen, eventually, when we come upon a panorama of the world, we no longer have the tools to process it unless we take a selfie and post it on Facebook.  Until it’s there, we never went to Shenandoah National Park to watch the leaves change, never saw a bear cross the woods, let alone got out of car to take a hike through a dense woods populated with species whose names and biological realities we will never bother to consider.

Worse even that this, is how racing to reduce complicated, complex, vast experiences to a digital photo or a website dulls the skills we might have cultivated to engage with it.  We are no longer able to be patient with processes of the natural world, whether it be the turn of the seasons or the emotional ranging that creating intimacy involves.  We already know what we want, thanks to our technology, and we are looking to get that desire satisfied so that we can move on to the next.  At the entrance station where I work, the few times I’ve been in the main office and a car pulls up, the driver and passengers are so engaged at staring to the left into the empty booth that they don’t see me standing on the other side of the car.  It would be hilarious if it weren’t such a dispiriting reminder of how fixed people have become.  Then, as they leave, they ask me to recommend the “best direction” to take into the park.  I want to tell them, and sometimes I do, that the best direction is all around them, if only they would keep their eyes and their minds open.  Unfortunately, these two sensory organs have already been effectively diminished thanks to Steve Jobs and his techno brethren.