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This seems like stating the screamingly obvious until we take into account that what Heidegger is interested in is the sense in which technoculture can be understood in terms of a particular orientation towards instrumentality. This is what Simpson characterizes as the technological anticipation, which he explains as a preoccupation that leads to our experiencing and interrogating things and action in terms of their manifest utility or potential for use, to our experiencing them within the framework of means and ends Simpson, 43 and Things and action encompasses everything from the resources of the natural world, the ultimate standing-reserve without which machines would be unimaginable but which is only imagined in relation to how it contributes to the manufacture and operation of the machine, to the activities of people who are subject to what Heidegger calls enframing as much as is the machine and the resources which it commands.

Enframing concerns the sense in which everything that is standing in reserve is revealed in terms of a particular ordering; the way in which the actual reveals itself as standing-reserve Heidegger In other words, what is standing in reserve exists in a relation of potential to other things that are standing in reserve.

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The parts of the aircraft are only revealed as such by their interlocking relationships, which include the fuel, the oil from which it is derived and the manner of its procurement, the materials from which the parts are made, the mining and manufacturing operations that secure them, as well as the tourist industry, among others, which, challenges forth these products in its need for aircraft. The idea of challenging occurs as a consequence of modern technology, which forces the natural world into patterns and speeds of production determined by industry.

The danger, as Heidegger sees it, is that the whole world thus becomes enframed by the technological imperative. Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, having narrowly escaped death at the hands of a sniper, experiences an existential crisis in which he is tortured by the realization that death and, by extension, life, may have no meaning; that death may be nothing more than a cessation of life, which, by implication, must then mean that life is nothing more than a preparation for death. As a surgeon, working on the frontline of the war in Korea, it is Major Winchesters job to patch up injured soldiers, many of whom will return to ghting and the possibility that.

He is thus faced with a double futility in which the work to which he has dedicated his life becomes as meaningless as life itself. To think through this conundrum, Winchester instructs a mechanic to take apart a jeep, piece by piece, and lay out its constituent parts on a white sheet. Sitting in the shell of the jeep, he reects on the fact that the jeep parts and the parts of the human body are analogous in so far as both only have meaning in terms of their potential as parts of a functioning whole but the jeep can be separated into its constituents and put back together, after which it will still function as a motor vehicle, but the same does not hold for the human body.

The question here is why Winchester should turn to a mechanical device to understand the meaning of life and death. It could be argued that he is making what philosophers call a category mistake,5 in that the mode in which bodies exist is fundamentally dierent from the mode in which machines exist, and the comparison can thus produce nothing but despair. But, from a Heideggerian perspective, Winchesters contemplation of the jeep is entirely logical.

The parts spread out on the sheet, the body shell and Winchester himself are standing-reserve in the technologically enframed theatre of war. In this sense, his being in the world and the presence in the world of the soldiers that he treats only have meaning in terms of their utility and are enframed by the same technological anticipation as the parts of the jeep. When Winchester wonders why a human body cannot be taken apart and put back together like the jeep he is falling prey to the illusion that everything man en- counters exists only insofar as it is his construct.

Technoculture: The Key Concepts by Debra Benita Shaw

He is trying to understand the body in terms of the jeep because the jeep represents the overriding logic of atomization and control promoted by the scientic method and its realization in technology. Winchesters delusion is Heideggers nal delusion in which it seems as though man everywhere and always encounters only himself Heidegger Winchester is trying to make sense of his own life and death in terms of a mechanical device because the mastering of the forces that have produced it, the challenging which has revealed its constituents as nothing other than standing-reserve in terms of the war machine must apply equally to the way that he understands himself.

Why else would he be using his skills to further the cause of war? The alternative, that the scientic worldview, its application to the natural world, the technology that emerges from this and its use in war is a betrayal of human being, is unimaginable. Small wonder then that Heidegger, at the end of the Second World War, described it as the confrontation of European humanity with global technology Heim, In other words, following the Second World War and the rst use of the atomic bomb, Europeans were confronted with their technologies in the same way that Major Winchester is confronted with the jeep and forced to ask the same uncomfortable questions.

Herbert Marcuse, a prominent member of what later became known as The Frankfurt School was one of his students up until the time he embraced Nazism in and Heideggers inuence can be discerned in Marcuses concern with the relationship between everyday life, language and ontology.


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The Frankfurt School were the founders of what has become known as Critical Theory, which developed partly as a response to German fascism and partly in connection with the rise of the mass media and US-style consumer capitalism. Although fundamentally Marxist, their aim was to revise Marxism in an attempt to apply it to the economic and social developments since Marxs death. The popularity of the Nazi Party in Germany during the s is partly traceable to the fallout from the Great Depression, which resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment.

Hitler addressed this with a massive programme of public works, which merged into an equally massive programme of armaments manufacture. However, Max Horkheimer, director of the Institute for Social Research, from which the Frankfurt School emerged, from to , in his essay The Jews and Europe sets out an analysis that understands fascism as a logical extension of capitalism. According to his argument, the injustices of the free market, and the sink-or-swim mentality which it produces, consolidates, among the bourgeoisie, an attitude of condemnation towards those who remain in poverty.

A form of natural justice is evoked to establish the rectitude of the status quo, which provides justication for social policies that consolidate the ownership of the means of production among a power elite. Hence, [e]xploitation no longer reproduces itself aimlessly via the market, but rather in the conscious exercise of power Horkheimer []: 83 and [t]he true self of the juridical owner of the means of production confronts him as the fascist commander of battalions of workers Horkheimer []: The total mobilization of a society is thus achieved and the battalions of workers, nd out what they really are: soldiers Horkheimer []: What Horkheimer understood, at a time when the full horrors of Nazism had yet to be realized, was that seemingly benign manufacturing technologies can become weapons of considerable power.

The infrastructure of modernity had provided a resource that the Nazis exploited in the service of war. Hitler was, as the economist John Gray writes, an ardent admirer of Henry Ford and American techniques of mass production, the Nazi leader saw technology as a means of enhancing human power Gray, In fact, totalitarianism can, itself, be understood in similar terms to the management of a factory in which the lives of the population are managed in.

The atrocities of the shoah; a technologically achieved ethnic cleansing understood as accruing from the mentality of technological anticipation, make chilling sense in terms of the logic of a power elite whose claim to dominance is founded in the mechanics and techniques of industrial capitalism. Horkheimer also understood that it was not only the mechanical devices of capital- ism that structure the fascist mentality but the techniques that drive the consumer economy: For decades there have been entire spheres of consumption in which only the labels change.

The panoply of dierent qualities in which consumers revel exists only on paper. He already knows enough to interpret the advertising for the great brand-name products as national slogans that one is not allowed to contradict. The discipline to which advertising appeals comes into its own in the fascist countries. In the posters the people nd out what they really are: soldiers. Horkheimer []: In other words, the transition from consumer in a capitalist society to soldier in a fascist army is achieved by the same means.

The technique of advertising, which constructs the self in terms of a brand image, is applied to remodel[ing] the populace into a combat-ready collective for civil and military purposes, so that it will function in the hands of the newly formed ruling class Horkheimer []: Later, in Dialectic of Enlightenment , Horkheimer and his Frankfurt School colleague, Theodor Adorno, developed a sustained critique of what they called the culture industry, linking the techniques of mass entertainment with the psycho- logical eects of propaganda.

Most of their argument appears to be a polemic against what, today, we often refer to as dumbing down but to understand it in this way would be to miss the point. What Adorno and Horkheimer are concerned with is the tendency of mass produced culture to promote conformity and thus to pro- hibit the development of ideas.

Inherent in the culture industry is the manufacture of demand for its own products, hence the possibility of resistance is diminished if not completely eradicated. The inequalities and injustices of industrial culture are not eradicated but displaced. On the one hand, the culture industry promotes itself as a solution to the dissatisfaction that it is largely responsible for producing. On the other, it becomes a powerful vehicle for mobilising disaection and alienation while masking the reality of an exploitative economy. Thus what is created is what the French sociologist Jacques Ellul refers to as a unifying psychism Ellul, Writing in , Ellul also made connections between the social eects of the entertainment media and what he calls the technical power of propaganda Ellul By employing the word technical here, Ellul connects the operation of propaganda with the concept of technique which, as he says, transforms everything it touches into a machine Ellul 4.

According to Ellul, technique integrates the machine into society Ellul 5. By this he means not that the world has become mechanical in the image of the machine but that it has become increasingly rationalized in order to accommodate the machine. Put simply, this means that what the machine cannot use becomes worthless, and this includes the kind of people that are unable to adapt to its requirements. Although Ellul did not necessarily have in mind people with disabilities, it is worth considering, as an example, the growth of cities and the way in which they are adapted, primarily, to serve the needs of commerce and industry and not the needs of people who do not have the physical or mental ability to negotiate the modern workplace or the trans- port systems.

In the name of eciency, from which technique is largely inseparable, cities function to transport, house and entertain, only those workers who can be made the most ecient use of in the name of prot. Hence, the majority of rough sleepers in big cities are, by and large, those who have been identied as suering from mental health problems. Therefore, when Ellul refers to the technical power of propaganda he is concerned with the sense in which technique is employed to create a world in which the reality of these problems is obscured.

In a technocracy:6 Technique. It is not that we are easily fooled, or manipulated but that we come to experience reality as only that which can be evaluated in terms of a technical rationale, a com- mon sense sustained by the authority of pervasive media technologies. The result, according to Ellul, is the disappearance of reality in a world of hallucinations Ellul It is worth remembering that these critiques were written during and just after the Second World War and, in Elluls case, at a time when the Cold War was at its most intense.

The experience of German fascism had left onlookers in no doubt. Furthermore, the ever present possibility of nuclear annihilation compounded the sense of threat from technology out of control. Ellul was voicing concerns that had signicant cultural eects during the s and that were at the heart of protests against the war in Vietnam and the attacks on the system of university administration in both Europe and the US.

Although the hippies tend to be remembered for stunts like the attempt to levitate the Pentagon, what is often forgotten is that hippie ideology was informed by critiques such as Elluls and, in the US, the inuence of the Frankfurt School, most notably Marcuse who, in One-Dimensional Man, rst published in , coins the term technological rationality []: 11 to describe a system that he believed was fundamentally irrational in that it operates on the basis of creating false needs: The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they nd their soul in their automobile, hi- set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.

The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced Marcuse []: 9. For Marcuse, it is comfort, rather than deprivation, that exerts overt control in the one-dimensional society but the people are nevertheless deprived, most notably of the capacity to think beyond the established paradigms: Its supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively dierent universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and eort is an integral part of the given society Marcuse []: This produces what Marcuse calls The Happy Consciousness the belief that the real is rational and that the system produces the goods Marcuse []: What he means by the real here is the conceptual universe produced by mass culture.

In Marxist thought, the reality of worker alienation and exploitation is obscured by an ideology that disguises the interests of the ruling class as the interests of the whole society, thus producing a false reality in which the working class labours to support and maintain its own exploitation.

Marx was convinced that people thus enslaved would become conscious of the irrationality of such a system and would come to understand that the power of technology could be liberated in the service of their own emancipation. What Marcuse understood was that, in postwar Western culture, because everything is commodied, including the kind of art and literature that challenges established ideals, there is no outside in which subversive ideas can ourish.

The Happy Consciousness does not describe a condition in which everyone is content and fullled but the sense in which people believe they should be happy because their desire for commodities, sold as the source of happiness, can be, at least temporarily, satised. In short, people accept the established reality to the extent that, rather than change an irrational and exploitative system, they set about changing themselves to accommodate it.

Thus, despite the fact that [t]o the extent to which the work world is conceived of as a machine and mechanized accordingly, it becomes the potential basis of a new freedom for man Marcuse []: 3 , its potential is obscured by the implanting of material and intellectual needs that perpetuate obsolete forms of the struggle for existence Marcuse []: 4, his emphasis. In other words, under the right ideological conditions, technology would provide for our basic needs and leave us free to pursue a more creative and egalitarian existence7 but, instead, the power of the machine is harnessed to a corrosive ideology which constructs existence as the struggle for self gratication in the form of commodities.

There is some agree- ment in Debords thesis with both Ellul and Marcuse but Debords primary concern is with the increasing predominance of media technologies in the dissemination of reality. Because television, lm and advertising are concerned with projecting images, the sense of sight is elevated above other senses and becomes the measure of our experiences.

Driven by the logic of commodication, the world is represented to us as a series of images that we can buy into and this includes things like thoughts and feelings. Thus the capitalist economy is sustained, not only by the labour that produces the commodities themselves but by our acquiescence to the perpetuation of the spectacle. Our desire to match ourselves to the images that surround us intensies with the development of increasingly sophisticated products that require ever greater investment of our emotional resources, as well as our money.

The spectacle is thus all pervasive.

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In the same sense in which, for Ellul, fascist propaganda constructed the self-image of the populace as soldiers so, for Debord, the spectacle requires that we recognize ourselves as consumers. Debord compares the spectacle to the fallacious paradise promoted by religious ideology, which, in promising redemption in an afterlife, allows people to invest power in an illusion and to accept suering and cruelty in the name of what he calls cloud-enshrouded entities that have now been brought down to earth.


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  • The Spectacle, as he says, is hence a technological version of the exiling of human powers in a world beyond Debord []: In short, God has been replaced by the technologically englamoured commodity. In attempting to realize ourselves through the images associated with commodities,.

    Debord was a member of The Situationist International, a loose aliation of European artists and activists who were instrumental in radicalizing the critique of technocratic capitalism. Their technique was an anarchic assault on the cultural representations of technocratic dominance, which they described as educative propaganda Knabb 8. The following is from in a self-administered questionnaire that appeared in their magazine, Internationale Situationiste, in Reality is superseding utopia. There is no longer any point in projecting an imaginary bridge between the richness of present technological capacities and the poverty of their use by the rulers of every variety.

    We want to put the material equipment at the disposal of everyones creativity Knabb By employing the simple but eective technique of dtournement literally, turning around , the SI appropriated elements from familiar cultural forms like classic art and literature, lms, theatre, advertisements, maps and icons of popular culture and dislocated them from their original contexts, bringing them into juxtaposition to create shocking or comic eects. Their anti-art was an attack on complacency, the predominance of bourgeois sensibilities and contemporary artists [who] have condemned themselves to doing art as one does business Knabb Their project was a conscious and collective construction of everyday life Knabb in opposition to [t]he world of consumption [which] is in reality the world of the mutual spectacularization of everyone, the world of everyones separation, estrangement and nonparticipation Knabb The SI technique of constructing situations is designed to estrange us from the spectacle; to use the techniques of the spectacle against itself and promote consciousness of our own acquiescence to, and participation in, the construction of an illusive reality.

    Such techniques were employed by the students who occupied the Sorbonne in Paris in May Although opinion is divided as to the extent of the SIs direct involvement in the events, they were condent that Situationist theory had a sign- icant role in the origins of the generalized critique that gave rise to the rst incidents of the May crisis and that developed along with that crisis. SI inuence was also apparent in the use of grati and slogans like Down with spectacle-commodity society, Long live communication, down with telecommunication and Be realistic, demand the impossible.

    This, essentially, is a set of methodologies concerned with deconstructing the conceptual apparatus of advanced technological cultures, rather than understanding them in terms of the progressive assumptions of classical historical materialism. In this sense, the work of the SI can be seen as foreshadowing the methods of postmodern theorists such as Jean Baudrillard who was teaching at the Sorbonne in and supported the student uprising and whose mentor, Henri Lefebvre, is often cited in SI texts. Baudrillards ideas, in fact, have become so pervasive that they have been referenced in mass market productions, most notably in Hollywood lm.


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    • For initiated moviegoers this was a direct reference to Baudrillards analysis of what he calls hyperreality, [t]he desert of the real itself Baudrillard 2, his emphasis , the state of advanced consumer capitalism in which [t]he real is produced from miniaturised units, from matrices, memory banks and command models and with these it can be reproduced an indenite number of times Baudrillard 3.

      The fact that a Hollywood science ction lm has paid homage to Baudrillards ideas and the fact that he has also been published in the journal Science Fiction Studies, is instructive. Baudrillard brings us back to one of the propositions with which I started this chapter, which is that, as a cultural product of modernity, science ction functions to analyse not the future but the cultural moment in which it is produced, defamiliarized by the technique of extrapolation.

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      Baudrillard is interested in science ction because, in contemporary hi-tech, postmodern culture, the space between that cultural moment and the extrapolated other world has collapsed. We can no longer imagine a future world in which the consequences of our present are dramatized and critiqued because the simulated reality produced by computer technologies is that world.

      01_Shaw_Technoculture_Introduction.pdf - TECHNOCULTURE The...

      In the Wachowskis lm, there is a world outside the matrix the simulated world that Thomas Anderson lives in and believes is real but it is an impoverished, cold and colourless world, only relieved by forays into the matrix to ght the machines that have enslaved humanity. Cypher, the Judas character, who betrays Neo for the taste of steak, chooses to be permanently reinserted into the matrix rather than remain in the etiolated world of the rebels because, as he says, ignorance is bliss.

      In Baudrillards analysis we are all Cyphers, acquiescing to a simulated reality in which we do not have to touch.

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