Archive | March 2010

Uses of Technological advances in a Commercially-driven society

On one of my days off from work I was going to take my camera out with me, but I lost the heart. It felt as if I would just be adding to the mess which consumer capitalism has created. “Well” I thought “maybe I can just keep them for my own use and not feel compelled to paste them on to the net?” However, I had just had the privilege of viewing the new updated Google maps.

“Technological advances in a consumer society render everything pointless!!” – I very much believe this now, thanks to the Google Empire.

I’m no technophobe; I believe in technology for the benefit of humanity. However, something isn’t quite right; the Utopian visions its advancements seem to suggest are always far from being realised. And instead of making life more fantastic and meaningful, it seems to be making it appear more and more pointless – a feeling which says “been there, done that; nothing great happened; what’s the point of doing it again?” Yet we have to do it again; we are a generation transfixed with the web. We have become glued to technological advances which serve no benefits to us or the advancement of our species, and there is a straight-forward reason for this: the triumph of commercialisation.

Today whilst searching the web, I discovered that something had happened that I had been expecting to happen for a long time: Google had taken over the world!!! OK, well that’s not entirely the truth, but Google Maps does now contain a comprehensive street view of almost every street in the UK. At some point (in the summer of 2009 – certain advertising banners on the street confirm this) Google’s high tech ‘camera-car’ has whizzed around every street sapping every house and every person who happened to be on the street at that moment.

If you were unfortunate enough to be one of these people, Google now has the Commercial rights to let the entire world see your body – it has been kind enough to blur your faces out, as if you were an innocent bystander in Google’s war on uncharted land. These bystanders look towards the camera with helpless bemusement, as if looking up at some medieval conqueror parading victoriously through their streets.

My first reaction to realising that the world-wide-web has got virtual access to my street, was to do something which I usually try to restrain myself from doing; I posted a feed onto my Facebook community wall, highlighting my exasperation to, what felt like, an infringement of some age old right, which had been lost under layers of insane commercial growth. Of course this was counter productive; Facebook (and the other SNS’s) already have the majority of the UK constantly updating their feeds, letting a small-town-sized virtual community know when they are eating, laughing, shitting or crying; what difference would it make if the world could see the windows of the rooms in which they do this?

After an hour or so of no ‘comments’ or ‘likes’ I decided it would be best to delete the feed, after all, I knew that most of my Facebook ‘friends’ would have glanced briefly at the feed and thought this: “John’s a right technophobe; he’s read 1984 far too many times”

Maybe I am little too ‘Over-Orwellian’ with my feelings about what’s happening. The thing is though; we wouldn’t even need some all-seeing power watching over our every move and facial expression; in the 21st century we’re quite happily showing our entire lives to the world anyway – we seem want the world to know everything about us, whether it wants to or not. Even the disconcerted cannot escape the tidal shift towards this way of living; they cannot live without the needs that Internet communication has created.

This use of technological advances is not the be-all and end-all of what it can offer us a species; this usage is intrinsic to a consumer society; free market capitalism can have no other use for technology, but profit-making. There is a difference between a technophobe and somebody who is severely disconcerted with the speed that technology is advancing to solely cater for the needs of a dictatorship of commercialism.

The predatory mechanisms of Consumerism have become ever-more powerful on the internet. Facebook and the other SNSs may not directly sell a certain product but they most certainly function by playing on the individual’s social insecurities and desires, and create an insatiable social void, by using the exact same formulas that can be seen being used by Consumerism to sell products. It may even be apparent that, just like there is a higher intensity of Consumerism in less equal nations, social networking site usage may also be higher as a percentage in more unequal and more hierarchical nations. The UK is one of Europe’s most unequal nations, and has a much higher number of Facebook users (roughly 23 million out of a 60 million total) than other European nations with higher and similar populations but with a more equal distribution of wealth such as Germany (roughly 7 million out of an 80 million total) or France (roughly 15 million out of 65 million total). It is a fact that there is more social anxiety in less equal nations so, obviously, more people will be on social networking sites, feeling compelled to maintain or improve their social status. (On this note, I would recommend that everybody read ‘The Spirit level’ why more equal societies do better, by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson; a book which goes very far in explaining the social consequences caused by inequality).

In the age when to be seen in the looking-glass, to be a celebrity, is an inescapable desire, we are all trying to prove our talents and creations. However, this now endemic desire has been rendered impotent by the culture that spurred them on; the omni-presence of cultural, visual, audio artefacts on the web has brought culture to the brink of valueless, and all that we can do is add to that decreasing. What can a photographer bring to a world which has been covered head-to-toe by the hi-tech camera abilities of Google street view? What can a songwriter bring to a world which consists of possibly over 1 million Myspace music artists also screaming to be heard? No doubt this rant will end up on my blog page; me, just another of millions of ‘me’s’blogging awaytrying to be noticed as having something of worth to contribute; ignoring our doubts that inform us that we are merely just adding to one great mess.

This accessible but futile ‘celebrity fuelled’ dream is working side by side with the advancements of commercial interest on the internet to the ends of making everything, once of value, worth nothing. However, this omnipresence is an ever growing pacification of the masses. Everything is instantly accessible, instantly there to consume; photo’s of everywhere, every song ever, every possible porn fantasy. If we aren’t strong enough to pull away we may already be plummeting ourselves into the completely dilapidated environment described in Brave New World.

The suggestion of an increasingly powerful virtual dominance controlling the mass, sometimes seems too stronger a suggestion to merely dismiss as an irrational fear. And the recent discovery of Google’s surveying of the land, was what recently got me feeling troubled that there is something seriously wrong with the uses of technological advances in our current society. I’m no conspiracy theorist, yet I just cannot see what commercial benefits Google could receive from photographically documenting back-alleys, and cul-de-sacs in small villages. One cannot help but wonder whether Google is being funded to be able undertake such an extensive survey of the nation’s roads. One could argue that the nations with the most extensive Google street-views on the net are the ones with the most national security paranoia, over issues such as terrorism, activism and immigration; The USA, The UK, Spain, France and the Netherlands are some of the few nations which have been extensively surveyed by Google. There is a decreasing level of trust in Capitalist societies, from person to person and from the state to citizen. This is only an unfounded suggestion, yet Google’s extensive surveying seems a little ‘over the top’ for the purpose of allocating advertising space.

Perhaps it isn’t impossible to imagine that Google street view will become a useful tool for the state once the poverty line lifts above most of the population, as climate change/peak oil make resources and jobs much more scarce – these environmental consequences are destined to happen if we carry on ‘business as usual, that’s for sure. The poor will need to be monitored ever more and possibly crushed ever more as their needs become greater. This may sound more like a terrific sci-fi dystopia, but are we not close to this situation already, without the consequences of climate change?
It doesn’t require much imagination to see that the current homogenising forces of consumerism could quite easily be utilised to control the masses in a much more direct and brutal manner; the gradual increasing of surveillance in society seems to be sneakily expanding, almost in-time to suppress the social unrest which would be caused by unchallenged climate change and peak oil. Google street view, presently a consumer accessory could be easily utilised for state surveillance; signing up to social-networking-sites could become compulsory; all those who are already signed up wouldn’t be able to leave. And finally, let’s not forget the structures of the out-of-town shopping complexes; these places would make ideal holding pens/prisons; indeed, my nearest shopping complex ‘Meadowhall’ was actually built with the original intention of it being a prison! You may say I have got a very vivid imagination; I say that I am merely monitoring the tracks of the inevitable.

Without the conspiracy, one thing still remains apparent as I look at the bemused passers-by caught without consent by the camera: the rights of enterprise seem to overrule all other rights; we can’t touch Google, just like we cannot touch the billboards which bombard our minds, however it is allowed to drive down our streets, and look in our windows, all for the apparent benefits to enterprise. Nobody and nowhere seem to be exempt from these rights of passage. More worryingly, few seem concerned, as they passively tell the world-wide-web about there private lives, whilst being satiated by omni-present consumerism to an extent to which the need for democracy doesn’t seem that great.