“Technologies have always changed us. Fire gave us a way to cook meat, essentially pre-digesting food and altering the evolution of both our teeth and digestive tract. Wearing fur allowed us to shed our own. Likewise, text changed the way we process and remember information, and television changed the way our brains relate to three-dimensional space. Digital media now extends some of these trajectories, while adding a few of its own.” (pp. 32-33)
In a celebrated scene from The Jerk (1979), dim-witted Steve Martin – excited by a dog’s apparent ability to save lives – is rebuked by an aggrieved observer, who suggests he calls it something very different – which Martin proceeds to do for the remainder of the film, to comic effect.
Similarly, it’s easy to get enthusiastic and passionate about a specific technology, sometimes to the point where it seems we cannot live without it. But it’s worth remembering that we draw on our own experiences, knowledge and culturally defined values to determine the affordances of technologies, and that our desire to share our excitement with others might not always be appreciated.
Coming across George Lange’s photo of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from 1991, I was struck by how well the postures, the attire and the interesting perspective capture what Apple and Microsoft represented at that time.
How different might a photo taken today look?
George Lange | Fortune Magazine (July 21, 1991) (Getty Images)
His previous works include Pandora’s Box (1992) – on political and technocratic rationalism – The Century of the Self (2002) – Freud and mass-consumerism – and The Power of Nightmares (2004) – radical Islamism and American Neoconservatism.
Curtis’s distinctive style combines critical insight – typically delivered in a calm, reassuring voice – with a highly creative use of imagery and sound. Though hardly unique, his technique of mixing archive footage of reportage and popular culture with eclectic soundtracks pre-empted web-based mash-ups by years, and the effect is still disturbing, compelling and at times, hypnotic.
In this new work, Curtis takes on the internet, suggesting that the myths of utopianism and democratisation that evolved from ecology, systems thinking and the hippy counter culture, are serving to contribute to the illusion of social connectivity and the perpetuation of a global capitalism.
Much of Adam Curtis’s previous work is available to view at thoughtmaybe, and to download from Internet Archive. Hopefully, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace will be added sometime in the future. In the meantime, it will no doubt be available for viewing in the UK on BBC iPlayer. Adam Curtis also blogs at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/