This movement happened without anybody knowing about it. And it is nearly impossible to convince anyone that it happened. And maybe I am making all this up – but my gut feelings tell me that I am not.
It is all quite logical, really – and that is what makes it so spooky. Everything we did was completely logical once we decided to concentrate on improving our machinery – and to exploit the world. This is what the Industrial Revolution amounted to. We now refer to this as Business – which has become our new religion – and it has become global.
Once we started down this road, we could not turn back – although we could not possibly have known where it would take us – straight into the arms of the Computer. But I am getting ahead of myself.
This story begins with the Enlightenment – which is usually considered a very good thing, but it had within it the seeds of its own destruction. Namely, the impulse towards improvement.
Now I have been obsessed with improvements of all kinds (mostly technical) for most of my life – but now, in my twilight years, I am thinking this might have not been such a good thing. Or perhaps it was too much of a good thing. One of our tendencies, as human beings, is to overdo things.
And I think we have done just that. To explain what I mean, I will have to do a fast rewind of human history – back to our first big technology – the Sailing Ship. Note that I have included technology in my basic analysis. In my opinion, any theory that ignores it is not worth considering. Someone should do a study showing what a huge impact the Sailing Ship had. It involved a complete change in the way we lived. As I wrote in The Industrial Revolution Began With The Sailing Ship.
Sailing ships had existed before, in the Mediterranean – but when they moved North – along with the Reformation – they changed fundamentally. This move coincided with the move of the Renaissance northward. This resulted in the big break between Northern Europe and Southern Europe – with the Protestant North becoming affluent, and the Catholic South remaining poor. This was blatantly obvious early in the 20th Century – when the Sociologist Max Weber discovered it. As the South (including Latin America) modernized itself later in the Century – this difference became less blatant – but still persists. But let me return to the 18th Century – where the story continues.
One huge impact the Sailing Ship had on its society was the new class of people that it provided employment for – the sailors. These people acted as machines in operation of their ships – iron men in wooden ships. They were the first example of the masses – the class of people that would eventually dominate their world. But, once again, I am getting ahead of myself.
The main thing to note was the shift in emphasis from concentrating on ourselves as humans (something we always had been) to concentrating on our machines (which were something new and exciting). And not only that – but seemed to make us much better. A new, improved kind of person was in the making – we thought.
The first technology, as I said, was the sailing ship – wind-powered machines, just like the windmills.
Next came the Steam Engine, which had multiple impacts:
- Manufacturing – initially fabrics. The independent farmers were evicted from their lands – and the land used for sheep grazing – which was more profitable – and provided wool for the Mills. The impoverished workers (something new in the world) had to work long hours under inhuman conditions – to make a few (the Capitalists, that owned the machines) extremely rich.
- Steamboats made transportation on the inland waterways cheaper and more reliable (since they did have to rely on the wind). And soon they did the same for oceanic travel. Powered at first by wood – and then by coal – which was abundant in England and Wales.
- The Canals (which were horse-powered) also made transportation cheaper. But these were soon replaced by the Steam Locomotives and the Railroads. Which moved much faster. And became a complete obsession – in control of the economy and the government.
All this was a gradual progression, compared to what followed it. Which was a combination of Electricity and the Photograph.
The Graphic Revolution
This is what the Historian Daniel J. Boorstin called it. It has also been called the Second Industrial Revolution.
Boorstin’s book is The Image – a Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. I like its opening quote from Max Frisch:
Technology…the knack of so arranging the world so that we don’t have to experience it.
All of a sudden, information (words and pictures) could move at lightening speed – with the telegraph and the telephone.
People did not understand this – few did. They just accepted it as an overwhelming new force in their lives. They were no longer in control. But were completely unaware of this – for that matter, they are still unaware. They only wanted to be entertained – and the Radio and the Movies soon arrived to entertain them. And make them used to believing in the magic screen.
But something else also arrived – Fascism (in Europe and also in Japan). This was greatly facilitated by the Depression – that also convinced people that they were not in control. The result was WWII, the greatest tragedy in human history – up until then.
Except for America, which became the most powerful nation in history – for awhile.
At this point, I want to make two points – people were no longer in control of their destiny. But Americans felt just the opposite – that they had become all-powerful – capable of controlling history itself.
The Topsy-Turvy World (where everything was the opposite of what it seemed) was fast developing.
After World War Two
This was when things really took off – when they really got crazy. I remember it well, because this is when I became an adult – or more accurately, when I went to work. It was also when the Cold War started – and we nearly ended the world with The Bomb – and we became Consumers.
The technology here was Television – which quickly took over our lives. As McLuhan and Postman have documented so well.
But this was quickly followed by the perfect technology – the Computer. It was perfect because its basic design (its basic hardware components and its controlling software) cannot be improved on. This was amazing enough. But its effects on its society were even more amazing (as it always is).
People became convinced they are perfect also. After all, hadn’t they invented the perfect machine? They didn’t notice that just the opposite had happened – they had ceased to exist – as humans. They had become their computers – especially when they were networked by the Internet and the Wireless.
I must emphasize here the difference between people and computers. Computers are completely logical – but also stupid. An enormous amount of work (the biggest effort in history) has gone into making them seem intelligent. But this is only an illusion.
Companies have decided to save money by replacing their customer interface people with software. The result, as I can attest personally, has been a disaster. People get frustrated and simple don’t buy their products. Or they buy them, but can’t figure out how to use them – but are ashamed to admit this – park them in a corner to gather dust somewhere – and forget about them.
People, by comparison, can understand other people, have a much better idea of what is going on. And can fill in the gaps (using their imaginations) that computers always miss. Compared to computers, people are downright smart.
Any smart company keeps its customer interface people – and pays careful attention to their feedback. But there are damn few smart companies. Most figure they can bamboozle the customer somehow – and don’t want to help them – because they are not part of the company.
To summarize – the ultimate mass movement has been towards complete stupidity.