TECHNOLOGY by Symeon J. ThompsonNews Weekly
Using technology to live wisely and well
, September 27, 2014
Recent media headlines have included a topic that seems a bit different from the usual diet of human comedy and tragedy. A particular company has merely launched some new products, and yet this has been covered by all the electronic vehicle (EV) major news outlets.
The late Steve Jobs in 2010,
holding an iPhone 4
Why they did so could be brushed off as a massive marketing ploy; but for marketing to work, especially at such a level, it has to tap into something essential to human experience. And, leading from that, what does this mean for the readers of News Weekly? An organisation concerned with the correct functioning of society will at least be curious about such a question, even if it is not a priority.
For those still scratching their heads, I’m writing about the Apple corporation and its recent launch of two new iPhones and an iWatch. To call the launch of a new phone newsworthy seems like an odd thing to do, but the news outlets do not think so. The reason for its significance is simple.
Apple, far more than any other tech company is responsible for the use of computers in everyday life. Its motive is not just a desire to make money, or a geeky obsession with tinkering, but a belief that if technology is to be part of our lives it should enhance them, not dictate them.
Prior to Apple’s start in the 1980s, computers were mainly used in business and government. The only other group really interested in them were, for a want of a better word, nerds — intelligent folk of an engineering mindset who liked to build things.
Steve Jobs’ vision with Apple was different. He saw computers as tools that could aid individuals to connect with one another, a way to empower the masses to be creative and involved with shaping of society. For Jobs, technology’s role was to make us more social, not less; to free us from drudgeries; to spend time on higher things.
Of course, reality hasn’t quite turned out that way. It never does. On the whole, the masses are not used to writing rich, deep complex novels about big issues or running volunteer groups that seek to end world hunger.
Instead of speeding up meaningful communication with loved ones around the world, they end up spreading pictures of cats or naked celebrities to anyone and everyone, and sharing such vital snippets as what’s for dinner.
Even worse, the new technology can lead to situations where a group of people may have got together to socialise, except that they all sit inert and scrolling on their smartphones and not making eye contact.
The response of conservative and traditionally-minded types is therefore understandable. All these newfangled contraptions push people apart, and confine them in hermetically-sealed boxes where they interact with the real world through a flickering screen. Therefore, it would be better to extinguish computers or regard them as being some sort of ball and chain.
Even the little traditional philosophy I’ve studied convinces me that this is claptrap. Computers are no more meant to be used excessively than are typewriters. The difference is that a computer can do more, and so users have to consciously decide how they wish to use it. In other words, users must be responsible for themselves.
A certain website, otherwise to be complimented for the richness of its commentary, has gone so far as to rip into the late Steve Jobs and Apple as an exercise in narcissism and hucksterism. So much does it despise Jobs that it even suggests that his bones be exhumed and dragged through the streets like Oliver Cromwell’s.
This is absurd. Alone amongst the major tech companies, Apple has sought to make the computer a thing that doesn’t interfere with the living of a good life. This was Steve Jobs’ vision. When Apple first had a headquarters, the lobby area held a Steinway Grand Piano and a Harley Davidson Motorbike as examples of human creativity and technological achievement, and recordings of Wagner were played.
Years ago, Jobs said that Apple exists at the crossroads of the liberal arts and technology. That is not the remark of a man who thinks we must be always online. That is the remark of a man who thinks that we use technology, and that therefore the technology must be as human as possible.
None of this is to say that Apple is perfect. It is a human institution and is as flawed as those who run it. Nor is this to downplay the serious issues that new technology poses for society.
But there is a term used by the internet generation to describe commentary that is relentlessly negative and only interested in criticism. That term is “trolling”.
It is worth recalling that with all the forces the Other Side have massed against us, we win no friends by being unthinking trolls.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).