First of all, I have to say the obvious – that machines are only machines, and we cannot assign ethical values to them. But, on the other hand – we can speak of whether or not certain machines, in certain circumstances, make the people who use them better or worse.
We are not used to making this judgement – but it’s high time we did. And I have two machines in mind – Television and the Computer. Which we are not used to criticizing, even though their impact on our lives has been enormous.
Let’s begin with TV – whose antecedents were the Movies and Radio. Both made huge impacts on our lives, early in the 20th Century – and putting them together resulted in an impact much greater than anything we had experienced before. It knocked us flat, and we have never recovered from it. And we don’t seem to want to.
We now demand that something else control our lives – something much better than we are. And the TV networks are happy to do just that. To turn their viewers into idiots – consumers.
All this happened suddenly – in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. In thirty years, we were changed completely! How on earth could this happen – without being noticed?
It was noticed – and plenty of people commented on it, at the time. But they were ignored – by the Mass of the people. Mass culture was noticed, and commented on, by Ortega y Gasset back in the Thirties, in his book The Revolt of the Masses – when Fascism was overtaking his country – Spain. The US destroyed Fascism in Germany and Italy in WWII – but left Spain alone.
Mass culture was created by the Mass Media – now usually shorted to just Media – which still means Television – which still means control by the Rich and Powerful. With most people reduced to a pale shadow of their former selves.
Once again, I ask “How could this happen?” This should be the burning question of our time – but it is not – because answering it would involve an attack on the dominant power structure of our time – Business.
And Business (with a capital B) is now made possible by the second Dark Horseman – the Computer. Which will be the subject of another posting.