Jonathan Lutton | Manifesto

My apologies to those of you who have the digital versions of our books, but all of the following page numbers will be in accordance with the physical copies.

“We ought to conceive of technological progress as something inherently capable of both benefit and detriment to humanity.”

- (What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly)

Technological progress is something which is often thought to be fundamentally beneficial to our lives and which extends upon our human capacity; however, it might be argued that this preconception leads us towards a blind adherence to technological advancement and its integration within society without a reasonable means of justification for doing so. No “rational person [can] ignore the steady stream of new ills bred by our inventions and activities, including new problems generated by our well-intentioned attempts to heal old problems,” and so it is necessary to view technology as both a benefit as well as a detriment to society (Kelly, 73).

This principle is intended to draw out the idea that our conception of technology could easily differ from its current state and we should view technology as having both positive and negative consequences, and—rather than blindly pursuing progress for its own sake—we should more carefully assess the reasoning behind our motives for developing new technologies. In keeping with this realization, what we determine to be a “positive” consequence of technological progress is contingent upon the way in which we relate technological advancement to our lives. Currently we believe that newer, faster, more productive technologies are inherently better for us, and the negative consequences which we see from this perspective are limited attention span, addiction to our smart phones, etc.—many of which we devalue in terms of their detriment to productivity within an individual.

If we were to adopt this principle, we might further consider the social implications behind our technological conceptions of benefit and detriment at work within our current system, resulting in a reconceptualization of how we organize our social norms, what we value within our society (e.g. efficiency over creativity), and how we interact with technology in our daily lives.

“We ought to eliminate our conceptions of technological forces—e.g. ‘the technium’ and ‘The Internet’—at work within the world.”

- (To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov)

When we attribute the resultants of human endeavors to technological forces at work within the world, it might be argued that we relinquish control over the outcomes that follow, devalue human thought, and ignore the reality of our situation. We have discussed the social implications of believing that “the Internet” can solve all of our worldly problems and discovered that this sort of macro approach towards finding technological solutions to social problems ignores the relevance of the individual (both humans as well as individual technologies) within society. This mindset causes our society to believe that we cannot drive or influence change within a system that we created. Additionally, believing in such forces is “a way to shift the debate away from more concrete and specific issues, essentially burying it in obscure and unproductive McLuhanism that seeks to discover some nonexistent inner truths about each and every medium under the sun” (Morozov, 19).

The acceptance of this principle would allow humanity to understand that we, as a collective of individuals, directly control the way in which technology works within the world. Technology accomplishes nothing without human input or interaction, and through this realization we may come to understand that individual technologies at work within our created system are responsible for facilitating our human endeavors, but not the system itself. In keeping with this idea, we would recognize that the system doesn’t spontaneously give rise to these outcomes or even have these features that we attribute to it; rather, humanity is facilitated by technology and gives rise to these features through its use of individual technologies.
In this way we would begin to not merely rely on “the power of these forces” to solve our problems, choosing rather to recognize our own cognitive capacity to improve the world around us with the facilitation of individual technologies and realizing our human potential to resolve the issues (both technological and societal) which affect us.

“We ought to design technology to preserve, value, and advance fundamental human interests, free will, capacity, nature, etc.”

- (The Techno-Human Condition by Allenby and Sarewitz & What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly)

Our societal conception of progress appears to privilege the advancement of technology for its own sake above its meaningful relation/utility to humanity. Likewise, we have adopted the idea that our designs for technology should “embrace and promote technological change,” when in reality this belief should be amended to state that we ought to “embrace technological change [that promotes our essential humanness]… [and which helps to] constitute a world better able to manage the complex consequences of its own ingenuity” (Allenby and Sarewitz, 160). Consequently, this idea presses us ever-towards designing new technologies without regard for their potential effects upon humanity, rather than designing individual technologies with the advancement or preservation of our fundamental humanness as the primary factor.

Accepting this principle would entail a conscious societal effort to reconfigure technologies that serve no purpose in advancing humanity such that they more readily preserve substantive human experience. Such an effort might necessitate a societal decision to remove—or consciously devalue—certain technologies that have been deemed unworthy of incorporation. (I am aware that this concept is dangerously close to an idealistic notion which neglects the individual’s ability to choose for themselves; however, this no more imposes upon the individual than our current governmental policies that prohibit the use of such things as marijuana, and, similarly, there will remain outliers who choose to use these technologies anyways.) Furthermore, this approach would involve a continual reassessment of any given technology’s place within society in order to better adapt it to suit our needs and the re-envisioning of such technologies towards more purposeful places in society (Kelly, 255-57).

“We ought to conceive of the world as knowable, but uncertain and not a puzzle with definitive solutions.”

- (To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov & The Techno-Human Condition by Allenby and Sarewitz)

There are truths about the world and technology that we can come to know through various means, but we must realize that these truths are contingent upon the events which precede them; consequently, these truths are only truly applicable in relation to our understanding of the past and its potential relevance to future events. We live in a world which is as dynamic and unpredictable as those who inhabit it, and the result of this is that we can never be certain of the way in which technologies will affect our social structure until their use is already active and mutating within society.

Technology is an integral part of our society, and humanity influences itself by the ways in which we choose to interact with our technologic system. We can no more understand how a given technology will affect society in the future than we can understand the innumerable influences that form our inner self, and—when we bring technological solutions to problems that we define upon contingently related truths—unforeseeable consequences emerge. No matter the amount of forethought we place into how technology might affect society, the way in which we interact with technology will inevitably mutate in ways we could not have foreseen; “in a complex world, the intelligible and the rational may often conflict,” taking our foundational conception of the world and turning it on its head (Allenby and Sarewitz, 119). Furthermore, the technological “solutions” we devise in our ignorance of the future often fall short of remedying the “problem” at hand, resulting in further complications.

Applied within society this principle would allow us to accept the uncertainty of our technological future and work within our conception of the present towards temporarily easing our issues for the moment, rather than attempting to devise definite solutions that neglect to account for our worldly flux and flow. Though initially discouraging, this worldview would allow us to embrace the uncertainty of the future, work with what we have in the present with respect to the past, and better prepare us for spontaneous occurrences such that we might react in a timely, effective manner.

“We, as individuals within a global community, ought to take a more proactive, conscious role in assessing the effects of technology upon our lives.”

- (Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff)

We have little control over how technology affects society, but we can control how it affects us individually. Additionally, we place ourselves in a state of perpetual anxiety over the need to “check-in” with our electronics and “get to the next best thing” (in order to maximize our time), but the fact of the matter is that we lose our sense of the present when we do this, devaluing the moment in which we currently reside. How then do we remedy this situation? Rather than accepting the constant influx of technology that you are told to use by socially constructed norms, one might make the radical decision to live outside the collective and consciously determine which technologies you wish to incorporate in your own life.

Question the implications of adopting a piece of technology. Consider whether you benefit from its presence and whether it is detrimental to other aspects of your life, rather than accepting the technological niche that society imposes upon you. Understand that there may be technologies that you cannot get along without (e.g. computers for college or work), but also recognize that there are even more technologies that you can live without.

Socially speaking, this normative statement is taken from a perspective that places the individual at work within society as both included in and separate from societal impositions, remaining capable of determining for themselves what they wish to accomplish in their lives. It has always been up to the individual whether or not to adopt individual technologies into their lives, but this principle requests that they do so as part of a conscious effort to maximize their own human flourishing. Taking a passive role in this decision—favoring blind, socially pressured norms and developments—is certainly something that this principle criticizes; however, it also recognizes the ability for anyone to work at their own pace—e.g. choosing to consciously turn off their phones during dinner with a friend or significant other.

“We ought not allow technology to interfere with or encompass our lives entirely.”

- (“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster)

Technology has the potential to encompass nearly every aspect of our lives, should humanity desire for it to do so. There are things, however, which one might consider to be of intrinsic good—such as unmediated social communication or the unhindered experience of a moment—and to willingly relinquish such integral aspects of our humanity to technological interference/mediation would diminish the significance of human experience. E.M. Forster recognizes this significance within his short story, “The Machine Stops,” in writing:

“[T]heir hearts were opened, and they knew what had been important on the earth… heavenly [technology] had been so long as man could shed it at will and live by the essence that is his soul, and the essence, equally divine, that is his body. The sin against the body - it was for that they wept in chief… the last sloshy stirrings of a spirit that had [once] grasped the stars… ‘Humanity [had] learnt its lesson’” (Forster, 22-23).

The recognition that not every part of our lives ought to be integrated with/mediated by technology is something that will prove useful as we decide how far we wish to incorporate it into our lives. We must learn to utilize technology only insofar as it is useful to us, and, when it loses this utility, we must be able to “shed it at will” without hesitation.

Societally speaking, this principle would entail a consideration of the fact that our global community ought to preserve the rights of an individual to choose whether or not to use any given technology; consequently, our society would have to reject laws that seek to impose technological advancement upon its citizens either by means of direct mandate or societal pressure to “meet the goals set before you,” i.e. you cannot succeed without technology.