JERRY MANDER: Technology is never "neutral"

Megatechnology: An Interview With Jerry Mander

by Scott London for Friction Magazine

December 10, 2001

“Megatechnology” is a word that appears quite often in your writing. What does it mean?

I use the term “megatechnology” to describe a new reality where many technologies intertwine to create new technologies. For example, we talk about computers as if they were a single technology, but in fact they are intertwined with many, many other technologies. So it’s no longer possible to relate to the computer on a one-to-one basis. We live in a new kind of global environment where everything is mediated by technology. We are interactive with it every minute of the day. We are in a car, or in an office with all kinds of machines, or relating to computers, or watching TV, or walking down the street (which is also a form of technology). So, we are constantly relating to it. We live in a technology environment, a technosphere.

What do you think that does to us?

Well, just as other creatures co-evolve with their environment, we are co-evolving with our technologies. In nature, creatures evolve by adjusting and reacting to other creatures. It used to be that way with human beings as well. But now we are co-evolving mainly with machines. Our compromise with them is that we start to become like them—we have to become a little like them in order to use them.

What do you mean?

I mean that if you’re going to play a video game, for example, the point is to speed up your hand-eye coordination. The better you get at the video game, the faster your hand-eye connection. What you are doing with your hands and eyes is involving yourself in the computer program. So you are creating a cycle of actions and reactions with the computer technology. As your awareness and your nervous system become tuned to the computer, you are changed accordingly.

This is true of any technology. Look at television, for example. To watch television is to take in images that are artificially created for a specific purpose. By carrying these images, you begin to turn into them. That’s basic to education and to all experience: as you ingest your environment you begin to evolve with it. In the case of television, you are evolving on the basis of carefully selected and programmed images, so you are getting acted on in a very aggressive manner. Television turns you into its own images. It rearranges your mind.

A point you make quite often is that technology is not neutral, as many people presume. It may seem neutral when we look at it in purely personal terms—the personal benefits of a computer, for example — but from a broader social and political perspective, technology actually changes our reality in dramatic and sometimes dangerous ways.

We need to understand how technology affects the whole system. Although we may find computers to be very helpful, or television to be entertaining, or cars able to move us rapidly where we need to go, these things also have serious effects on the environment, on the speed of life, on the way we think, on how we view ourselves, on how we react with nature, and on how power changes in the system. All of these are systemic changes; they are things that happen in the system as a whole.

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