Monday, April 30, 2007

Two Sides to the Detaching Effect of Technology and “Indirect Light”

This is a Blog C post on Paul Virilio's "Indirect Light."

In his article, “Indirect Light,” Paul Virilio talks about how successive feats in technology move us further and further away from our experience of things. Our natural experience of reality is being replaced by technologically realized interfaces that detach us from the physics of real experience: the time of experience (as events are recorded and later broadcasted); the space in which these events occur (as we can digitally experience events that occur in places that are not in the same physical space of the viewer); the intelligence needed to perform certain experiences (as technologies replace human interaction completely—as in the advancement towards a fully automated “driving computer;” the physical constraints of our bodies (as light-intensification cameras make the limits of our eyes inconsequential). He writes with the stance of how these things seem to be bringing us into a dark future devoid of the humanity of natural, physical experience; these technologies separate us from what is natural—what is real.

I can’t necessarily say whether or not I agree with him. He makes valid points that do elicit a fearful vision of an automated, lifeless future. However, I doubt that we, as humans, will let this progression go so far. Besides, there are two sides to this; not all technologically-based detachment is essentially good or bad. For example, technology has replaced the need to spend our time doing mundane tasks such as washing clothes. Virilio mentions the recent use of the description, “washing-computer.” Sure, one can argue that there is some humanity in physically washing clothes. However, a nudist can also argue the act of wearing clothes challenges humanity.

It should also be noted that in many circumstances, remote automation is a far better alternative when it comes to reducing the risk of injury or death. A robotic “tele-presence” machine is indisputably preferred when disarming bombs or entering other dangerous areas. In this case, no one will argue of the benefit of technology (though also note that in this case, the bomb itself is a technological, spatially-remote replacement to physically beating people to death—a much more humanistic approach). Another form of technological detachment that has helped humanity is how medicine—antibiotics, especially—has replaced our bodies’ natural process of healing. However, some may argue that this technological intervention of bio-engineering has made our bodies’ natural ability to fight germs weaker and less effective. Even further (though perhaps to an extreme), one can argue that these technologies (that help make biological deficiencies inconsequential) disrupts natural selection, which is a very bad thing to do as it perpetuates the passing of maladaptive traits into the gene pool. For example, corrective eyeglasses—which changes the way our eyes perceive visual phenomena much like Verilio’s example of the light intensification camera—allow those of us, myself included, who would have fell victim to a saber-toothed tiger (or maybe just an unseen cliff) in more primitive times a chance to live as if we did not have such a biologically damning deficiency, and also pass on our myopic genes.



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