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stuck in determinism

While watching Rise of the Drones I fell into my traditional thought patterns that this specific technology—aerial drones with the ability to spy and kill—was the inevitable outcome of technological advances and the social responses to the capabilities these advances made real.

In college I’d learned about Technological Determinism while studying engineering. I’d also learned about a subset of determinism—Media Determinism—while studying communications. I’ll always treasure my textbooks even though the exact prognostications or specific nuances of their theories seem outdated.

To me, the Medium is still The Message.  In Rise of the Drones trained Air Force pilots use Xbox controllers to  instruct non-pilots on how to fly drones and kill targets.  Thus the kill controllers now control the kill.  And while specific Limits to Growth might have been inexact it’s clear that population increases tied to limited natural resources combined with global climate change are, in fact…limiting.

Did determinism resonate innately with me or did it shape me?  Tough to say which is cause vs. effect. Once exposed I groked McLunah immediately and was sure that homo sapiens had sincerely and certainly extended ourselves in every way possible through technology:

  • Flint & fire & fur
  • Canoes & carriages & cars
  • Symbols & semiotics & social media
  • Spears & spyglasses & predator drones

I wonder why these theories have been sidelined?  After all, eras were named initially by geologic periods (e.g., Paleozoic, Mesozoic, etc.) but once the Precambrian explosion occurred it’s possible to tie eras to biology.  Human eras are, of course, defined by technology.  The dawn of man produces eras named after technological advancements yielding the Stone Age, the Copper, Bronze &Iron ages, the Industrial Age, the Space Age, etc.

Regardless of formal definition we all know intuitively that we’ve been touched by the digital age.  Let’s look back using a non-strict deterministic lens: As soon as digital audio was possible it quickly replaced analog.  Digital was lossy and cold but it was easier to produce and it’s way more portable.  So we’ve revised our listening experiences to embrace this newness.  We don’t have record parties.  We don’t care if songs that move us can actually be performed.  Socially, we changed.

MP3 audio technology existed before the iPod.  But the iPod click-wheel interface was the break-through.  It was an extension of the way that we used to flip through record bins.  It turned what we did into what we do via technology.  Now there’s literally no turning back because you can’t find a record store.

Moving further, we’re now in the mobile digital age.  Reading, learning and social interaction are augmented by web-based technologies and in many cases replace their predecessors.

It’s OK that these theories are imperfect.  Newton’s theories don’t mesh with special relativity or quantum mechanics but classical dynamics can land a man on the moon.  I’m sure that life is so complex that determinism isn’t a theory that can predict much.

Still, human ambition drives innovation forward.  In Rise of the Drones the technological advances have social & political impacts for all of society—even those who don’t know or care about drones.

I think it’s clear that Determinism resonates as a framework to understand that we advance our technologies and then our technologies advance us.

written on January 26th, 2013 at 9:57 PM by steve

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