Slave to the Toolmasters?
Digital tool wielding technocratic elites
“Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.”
“Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
― Mario Puzo, The Godfather
Chains, fortunes, crime - seems to be the thematic material of the 2020s. But of course it goes back a long way. We are just privy to that place in history where all the rivers converge into the sea…
It’s very difficult for me to put my finger on when my computer, and then my smartphone, became an extension of me in the world and the world in me. I remember as a kid getting a brand new phone in the house with push buttons on the face of it - such amazing high tech - look how quickly I can dial that number! At my grandparents house there was a wooden phone that you had to turn a handle around to make the extension ring in the shed at the other end of the property. When you left the house for the day, the only way of checking in at home to have some coins for a pay phone downtown. I hardly ever remember having to do so as a kid or even a young adult.
Somewhere along the line a new imperative arose - the necessity to be connected, I’d say hyperconnected, to anyone, everyone, and all that was happening in the world. It wasn’t for an increase in quality of life as far as I could tell - it was more for it’s own sake - “Look what I can do! Look what I know!”
My first Blackberry was an object of curiosity rather than necessity. Everyone was getting one so I assumed it was important. You had to create reasons to use its functionality rather that the functionality filling some void or need.
We know what happened from there - better screens, better connectivity, better internet, better services - the whole world got a lot better very quickly… right?
And now what is it like if you left your phone at home? OK, that doesn’t happen… but what is it like when your phone dies half way through your day and you can’t charge it right away? It’s like part of you is missing, you’re vulnerable, naked, unable to see, know, respond immediately. You pull it out of your pocket in a reflex even though you are conscious the think is dead - you wonder what you are missing.
I’m a cyborg with this thing attached to me, this extension of my consciousness in the world. It’s going too far I believe, and not because I’m an old bloke who remembers old analogue phones back in the day, but because this screen in our back pocket is a tether to our want-to-be technocrat masters. And this doesn’t seem to be the end of the matter - embedded chips, nanotechnology, facial recognition, individual identification from a lazer measuring your heartbeat! We are merging into the machine.
A 2020 paper by Daniel Broudy and Makoto Arakaki1, Who Wants to Be a Slave? The Technocratic Covergence of Humans and Data, offers an important perspective of how the technocratic elites wield control over the people through mass media and the development, distribution and implementation of new technologies - through our smartphones, bioID, etc. The end goal being the establishment of a global neoliberal rule by a technocratic elite - a New World Order if you will. You know the drill.
“We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us.”
- John Culkin
Electronic media technology so seamlessly and completely immerses the population that its influence on the mind of the masses is largely imperceptible - like the air we breathe. As I was musing about my smartphone, conscious awareness of the enormous reliance on today’s digital world is often not realised until we don’t have a WiFi connection, or worse, someone took the charging cable out of the car and your phone is about to die! Like suffocating, we are suddenly awakened to the reality and importance of oxygen! (OK, maybe not that dramatic for some, but I can tell you it can be for others).
One of the illusions of the technology revolution is the appearance of individual sovereignty and individual power, when it’s that very sovereignty and power that these tools erode through the management of elite power-brokers. We are sold a new iPhone on the basis of the extra freedom and control it will provide us with, when in actual fact it’s a powerful surveillance and control tool for a third party.
Broudy and Arakaki describe in their paper that our perception of reality has been shaped by the message channeled through the technology (and as I’ve been talking about at length, a left hemisphere message were everything is about commerce and the human is reduced to just a utility in the commercial world). Most of the people, most of the time, are not in an objective position to realise what’s going on. Again, like a fish in water - it’s unlikely to notice the water (until it’s pulled out of it). Or to offer a more science fiction analogy (albeit overused) - like Neo in the Matrix, he couldn’t see “behind the curtain” until he took the red pill.
The illusion, however, is not universal. Especially so here on Substack. Many are waking up to the marginalization of dissident voices, the manipulation of political discourse in the mass media and the obvious discrepancies between the Narrative and reality. For authoritarian technocrats…
algorithms conditioning the masses that the neoliberal global order, managed by the technocracy, is not just advantageous but necessary. The implied message is sufficiently clear: resistance to social change engineered and enforced by these new tools is futile.
- Broudy & Arakaki (2020)
We, as the human species, have been reduced to producers and consumers in a society that in increasingly becoming nothing more than an economic system - an economic machine, if you like. We have been conditioned as a society that “time is money” and the pursuit of money/things (and its illusion of security) is the principle purpose of life (we are defined as homo economicus).
Elon Musk talks about us having to merge with technology if we want to “add value to the economy”. We are, as an individual, no longer valued as an autonomous and sovereign person but rather just another data point, and if we are to “add value” we should become a cyborg (if we are not already with our phones). Musk was particularly concerned that if we didn’t merge with the machine we would become slaves to emerging artificial intelligence, but I don’t believe this to be a reason to de-humanize ourselves. We seem to be assaulted by so many ‘threats’, and the way to keep ourselves safe from these threats (according to the technocrat elite overlords) is to give up our individual rights, our personal information, our everything.
Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.
- Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
We had hardly noticed that this mass communication technology has turned against us as a weapon of war, a means of social control, a freeway to slavery! But the last two years have slapped us in the face with this reality. It’s probably too late now for warnings to “beware of the neoliberal project that intends to enslave you,” as this is upon us. But it’s not too late to wake up individuals from the mass psychosis and to start building a parallel society (I realise referencing Neo taking the “red pill” is overdone these days, but it’s the perfect allegory) separated from the technocrats psychopathology.
I’ve now got myself a new version of an old ‘dumb’ phone - no smart thing about it. Yes I can still be tracked with this relic of the past but that’s what a faraday bag is for. I’ve opted out of Google and FaceBook, have a proton account and operate through a VPN - whatever I can do to stop feeding the machine… the beast.
What are you doing so as to not be a slave to the Werkzeugmeister?2
Broudy, Professor of Rhetoric and Applied Linguistics at Okinawa Christian University, Japan, researches signs and symbols in media and culture that serve to support contemporary political mythologies. He is Co-director of the Working Group on Propaganda and the 9/11 Global “War on Terror”; Associate Researcher in the Organisation for Propaganda Studies; and Associate Editor for Frontiers in Communication. And he has a book - Okinawa Under Occupation: McDonaldization and Resistance to Neoliberal Propaganda.
Broudy D., & Arakaki M. (2020). Who Wants to Be a Slave? The Technocratic Convergence of Humans and Data. Front. Commun. 5:37. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2020.00037
“Toolmasters” sounds better in German ;-)