On Walden Pond: how IT and modern communication systems are harbingers of the end times
Written by discipline , Medusa - 21 August 2011
As the plague preceded the renaissance so too the scourge of the satellite precedes the the birthing pains of an unknowable new era of global economy and endless war. There are many kinds of technology but the technology that reigns supreme is INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, the wooden horse that brings along open markets, apache helicopters, and the apocalypse of culture as we can relate and know it.
The richest men in the world are those that deal in communication, be it in the transmission or architecture of words, feelings, desires, or standards. Whoever owns the satellites, the media monopolies, or the IT hubs also directs the ebb and flow of events.
As we come closer and closer to information traveling at the speed of light, so we are moving quicker and quicker towards an intolerable speed. As objects balloon in mass as they quicken in pace, so does our society and its infrastructure similarly gain mass beyond its capacity to sustain itself when it comes to a sudden halt. A hundred years ago we mulled over elections for weeks whereas now we demand conclusion in hours. A hundred years ago we labored over diplomacy in back rooms and lengthy appeals to the masses, whereas now soundbites and tomahawk missiles do the same in minutes. With the speed of transmission comes the urgency to act and decide.
We are handed technology with the promise of "saving time", when what it actually does is kill time. The time it would take to make a decision or examine all perspectives is squashed into nanoseconds. With this loss of time comes a loss of attention span. Our decision making facilities are compromised by haste and we are unwilling to read more than a paragraph or speak more than a few words on a subject lest we lose our audience.
While we shovel our traditions into the fire in favor of haste and sleekness, we instead make ourselves listless and obese. Knowledge, kept "safe" in databases, exits the collective consciousness forever. Rome's enemies had to carve the human element out of the infrastructure like a mussel out of a shell, whereas we rely on this web of fragile silk strands, invisible rays beamed back and forth between the earth and space. A press of the button, a massive catastrophe, a blink of the eye and we are separated from the center of gravity and go careening back into the dark ages, completely unequipped and having lost so much gained through the history of human experiences. Communities gutted their traditions in favor of becoming "linked in" to a bigger human society. Now we have lost our human relationships. When the lights go dark, what will we have but memories of Rachel Ray recipes, cheap manufactured textiles from Bangladesh, and endless miles of useless manicured lawns?
Of course we can't very well throw the baby out with the bathwater by now. Information technology might very well prove to be an important asset to future civilization formation. But while the rich have glutted themselves on using IT to make money and more money and more money and gain power beyond their wildest dreams, we - the pleb users, not everyone is hooked up - have used it to post about what we had for dinner, f5'd celebrity blogs, check our Facebook status feed fifty times a day (AT THE DINNER TABLE EVEN!), and gain a shallow knowledge about a lot of things via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia anyone can edit. We have been effectively corralled into containers where we can cause little to no harm. Our hacker heroes work for Microsoft now, and our Facebook calls to arms can be blocked by Mark Zuckerberg a la J20 protests and numerous other such instances. We haven't spent enough effort utilizing this technology to it's fullest extent. We are getting fat around the waist while others get fat in the wallet.
So what can we do? Obviously building critical mechanisms towards IT is imperative. But do we plan on seizing the means of communication as well as the means of production? In this day and age, when money is as delicate as the flashes of light through wires used to move it, what is it we're grabbing at? Sure, we're grabbing at the physical, but we must narrow down what it is we're grabbing on the metaphysical level as well. Community, religion, national identity, the list goes on.
Of course before we can plot a course through, we must find a way to even weather the storm that is only beginning to bombard us, because make no mistake: the current state of affairs is not only similar to the caldera of plague from which the European renaissance rose in its transformative nature, but in its virtually apocalyptic nature as well. Catastrophe is looming, and in many quarters it can already be felt. Suicide rates in the wealthiest quarters of the world skyrocket while dogmatic fundamentalism springs up in the poorest - both are signs of a culture made desperately, and usually hopelessly aware of its own mortality. And that is the horror of this state of affairs, really; the very beast that gnaws at our throat makes us complacent and bovine through its very influence. Faced with the crushing, ever-inward sliding walls Annihilation and Ossification, we can do little more than tweet our despair.
Mankind! you are the poor in need of Allah
whereas Allah is the Rich Beyond Need, the Praiseworthy. (Surah Fatir: 15)
Humanity divide into two with respect to this need: those who acknowledge it and those who deny it. They are two communities and have always been so throughout history.
We also realise that it links to words such as commune and communicate. Commune is still used as a noun for a unit of urban government in Europe, but as a verb it is a particularly intense and intimate version of communicate. So let us dare the thought that community, as well as being a people who hold some things in common, is something in which communication takes place. Communication, as between human beings, we characterise as uncovering what has become covered and bringing it to light. Its opposite is what we experience today: the covering over of the truth, its concealment by clever argument and dialectic.
We would not characterise our age as community, because of its reliance on high-tech data and information, and its adversarial and dialectical approach to that information, and information’s propagation by expert priest-like figures and professionals who manipulate it to nefarious ends, which is the opposite of communication.
Moreover, we would find one essential element in Islam, and in every society that has had at some point the remnants of the Islam of an ancient prophet, and we hold that every people has had such a being among them at some point, that there are two levels of communication, only one of which modern man considers real: inter-human communication. However, the other vital element that every sane culture has always been alert to is communication with the Unseen Divine; talking to Him in earnest supplication and hearing His address to us in His revealed book.
So this is an attempt to open up the idea of community: it is those who have in common their deep existential need of the Creator and of each other, and those who communicate and commune.