Monday, February 3, 2014

There's blood on your smart phone

It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard (a soon to be extinct simile). When I hear you talking about “progress” and touting the glorious benefits of the latest technology I want to scream in your face: “So, you approve of slavery and genocide and mass extinction and systemic oppression and economic coercion and . . . !”

But I stop myself. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the glitter and sparkle. And you didn’t know the Kool Aid was poisoned.

That smart device you clutch so eagerly in your hand right now, for example, is merely the shimmering rainbow reflection on the surface of an oil-poisoned ocean of on-going pain and suffering. Nameless Asian factory workers (but they do have names!), many outright slaves, sacrificed their health and sanity—and in many cases their actual lives—so that you could marvel at the latest iteration of human progress. Deep in the African Congo, men—boys, mostly—are marched for days into the jungle to dig and pan coltan ore, extremely laborious work carried out under the watchful guns of corrupt warlords. As their crops die unattended in the field, they scratch at the earth for daily wages that average about twice what you paid for your last iPad app—the one that you downloaded with circuitry that uses coltan-laced capacitors.

These are just two examples among countless others. When you slide your finger across the smooth screen interface of the latest techno-beacon of civilized progress, you are pressing ever so gently on the heads of real people—people whose lives are being crushed under the collective pressure of a billion fingers just like yours.

And that’s just what’s happening right now, today. But the device in your hand didn’t just spontaneously appear. It represents just one technological moment in an ongoing process with a dark and deadly developmental history.
Not only does technology obscure the truth of the present, it buries its own past as well. For technology, the present is all there is. There is no past. The imperative of efficiency makes anything prior to the present irrelevant. What counts is what we can do with what is now. History is itself a technology that is continuously being refined, retooled, and updated to the newest version—always moving forward.

The past contains (literally, as a container that insulates) the unfathomable sacrifice that all technology demands, the blood tribute that has been paid again and again in order for “progress” to be realized. Recognized for what it is, the past would burn like a hot rock your throat. To embrace the truth of the past would make participation in the present a grueling ordeal for anyone still in possession of half a conscience. To participate willingly in the present technological moment is to luxuriate in the spoils of genocide and holocaust.

The ratchet of progress removes the past with each turn of the handle. And conscience is easily placated with the latest sparkly gadget, the latest shimmering surface distraction, the latest dose of mass-marketed entertainment.

So what about those Seahawks last night!

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