The Tyranny of Technological Replication

I’m never sure how I can defend a critique against technology–it seems as though we have gained so much. And whenever I rant against drones or iPads (or the very device upon which I’m pecking) someone will pipe up, “I s’pose you’d prefer we didn’t have penicillin either!” Maybe. I’m really not sure. By which I mean, certain things that are discovered and then applied make new ways of being and thinking. The free and abundant (and often useless) proliferation of antibiotics creates a kind of cavalier response to life. Where the merest scratch might have led to death if not treated properly, now, the merest scratch is just that, the merest scratch. It itches a bit as it heals. But it’s that change of “proper treatment” that changes us and evolves our attitudes toward health, toward our ways of treating our living selves. We are less careful of life, to put it mildly.


A bookish fella like myself will praise written language and books, and then I will become very ambivalent about how technologies (which don’t advance the language but the dissemination of marks on tablets, stones, pages) corrupt these “geological” developments. Speed kills in this as in many other circumstances. You are now wasting time reading this. There are many, many books, pamphlets, speeches, bibles, novels, treatises, etc., to read. These, however, take far more attention and time. Time you don’t have because a technology has advanced your way of working and living so that you can be more useful to some system or corporation. And so, really, I can apply this argument against technological progress to books. Do I learn from them, ape them, misunderstand them (fruitfully or detrimentally)? Do they protect me against the persuasive speech of a local charismatic?


Also the tyranny of “knowing” and/or of being “in the know” is consistent. We can say books, printing in particular, democratized knowing, at least marginally. Until free access to libraries for all people became possible there were still gatekeepers. And writers of books are gatekeepers too in a sense. Books need authority (friend Patty Ingham, in her book The Medieval New, talks about Roger Bacon’s arguments about using “false authority” to give arguments credibility in the 13th century); they need to be given authority.

Interchange – Innovation Is Nothing New: Novelty in the Middle Ages


Which is to say that as discoveries of how the natural world operates became commonplace and then useful in our refashioning our lived spaces. Which is also to say that we often can’t quite understand those times and places that have been changed to our technological understanding. Those people share our characteristics of humanness, but are we able to think in the same ways?


This morning I was walking and listening to a Radio Open Source podcast (yes, yes, the technology I prize!) called “Reinventing Bach.” And one guest, author Paul Elie, walks the listener through the way particular musicians received Bach, and made use of Bach in their lives as performers and composers. Basically Bach promotes and prizes “invention” and improvisation, and this changes in musical history as composers of genius insist that their music must be played as a painting or statue is viewed as art. We receive it, accept it, as it exists, composed. Do NOT change it. This is both an expression of self-importance and perhaps “will-to-power” over others. Perhaps it’s also mistrust. “You cannot understand this unless you play it this way and hear it this way.” The SELF asserts a tyrannical primacy here.

Further, and what prompted these musings (as I prepare my head for another consideration of drone technology on Interchange tonight), was the realization that replication FREEZES us out of individual responses (we reserve our individuality now as a matter of “taste” or “fashion). Albert Schweitzer apparently meant to use music to fight Fascism and made recordings of Bach as a way to educate the world against that political error; Walt Disney, at nearly the same time, uses Bach for Fantasia and forever weds a cartoon image to the minds of listeners who hear that music; The cellist Pablo Casals spends TWELVE YEARS studying Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello before playing them in public; Glenn Gould “discovers” the music, recorded in 1955, in his first version of the Goldberg Variations; In his second recording he is contemplative and this offers a kind of autobiography of change…a nervous energy deepens in maturity perhaps, and though Gould makes use of technologies to record sounds he is not surrounded by it; it is still just another tool in the box and not the beginning of his musical worldview. The cellist Yo Yo Ma however seems to represent that “frozen” quality in the visual presentation of playing music. He basically plays Bach the same way again and again, but he is able to create video recordings and send himself in front of millions of viewer/listeners.


I have, due to lack of concentration and patience, butchered that last section. Listen to the podcast. But let me repeat, Pablo Casals studied the Bach Suites for Solo Cello for TWELVE YEARS. I don’t have the patience to let this post rest a day before I hit “publish.” You see what I’m getting at?


Performance as property, as replicated commodity, has shrunk the impulse to create art. We wish to print money in the form of “art products.” And quickly, quickly. Art takes time. Eons.


Life is jazz…it’s accident within form. The tyrannies of technology are about frozen forms with no variations within. Of course I know that “electronica” can be “free” too. The proliferation of control technologies can be subverted

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. But it’s harder and harder to “rage against the machine” as this seems not only futile but courts self-annihilation.

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