Countering The Machines Of Loving Grace
"It's not the effect of technology on society, on economics, on religion, on war, on culture – etcetera – on art, it's that everything now is existing in technology as the new host of life. It's the price we pay for the pursuit of our technological happiness…"
Godfrey Reggio, director of Naqoyqatsi
The recent broadcast of Adam Curtis' All Watched over By Machines Of Loving Grace sought to explore how our post-digital culture has "distorted and simplified our view of the world around us". Curtis' hypothesis was sound and – more than a decade after the modern web's birth – a timely and healthy reflection on the implications of a planetary computing organism.
Though I've been a great admirer of his previous works, notably The Power Of Nightmares, this recent piece seemed to be intellectually random at best, cutting and pasting from recent history to contrive a conspiratorial narrative that didn't really hold up to scrutiny.
Indeed, the series was widely criticised; breathtaking technique, but thin on expertise and insight. Indeed, Curtis' very methods have been cheekily parodied as The Loving Trap. Incidentally, Richard Brautigan's poem, from which Curtis' film draws its title, speculated about a post-cybernetic utopia where technology had enabled humanity to occupy a world free of labour.
What did stand out from Curtis' essay, was the notion that humanity is increasingly seen as just another component within overlapping ecospheres and 'systems'. I took this as the singular insight of the series and indeed it may have been enlightening to hear arguments that humanity is indeed exceptional and we should be comfortable with this superiority.
Where Curtis fixated on drawing an implausible line from Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan to hippy communes, Richard Dawkins, holistic ecosystems and Congolese mineral conflicts, there is actually a burgeoning body of research and expertise that provides some fascinating insights into our anxieties about post-digital life…
- Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated
- Douglas Rushkoff's Program or be Programmed
- Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants
- Matt Edgar's Breathless from the fumes of the data exhaust
- James Gleick's The Information
- Greg Borenstein's All Watched Over: On Foo, Cybernetics, And Big Data
- Brian Christian's The Most Human Human
- Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion
- Jaron Lanier's You Are Not A Gadget
- Sherry Turkle's Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other
- Elias Aboujaoude's Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality
- Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's Delete: The Virtue Of Forgetting In A Digital Age
If Curtis' hypothesis took in even a fraction of the perspective these kinds of thinkers, the result may have been a clearer exposition of the dystopian dependencies and dangers of humanity mediated by machines.
Sadly, though All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace came across as a stylistic and masterful piece of editing and filmmaking, it masks a core of ignorance and misdirection.