26 Aug

I ate a textbyte in Wired Monday morning: it charted the decline in phone conversations since the early 21st century This corresponds roughly with the ascent into adolescence of the first generation for whom mobile telephone conversation is the norm. Texting is cheaper than phoning.

As a child I remember rotary dial interfaces on phones. To place photographs and text together required a printing process and many many hours of mostly tedious prep work. I remember the first scanner I encountered. How it relieved me of many dull hours in the dark room, at the light desk. It was magic.

Those born after the fall of the Berlin Wall take this for granted. It’s integral to their culture in way it isn’t and can never be for me. At a Gen Y birthday party and someone in the crew is in Berlin? (This isn’t unusual in Melbourne’s leafier places.) Well, in this year of the Almighty Whatever 2010 one can be in Berlin and Melbourne too. Wi-fi/laptop or iPhone, it’s all you need. The only thing missing is physical. You can’t hug the birthday boy.

Is that on its way? Haven’t heard any talk of ‘virtual sex’ for a while.

Anyway. The only real insight Karl Marx ever had was to perceive a process whereby technology drives the history of the world. Why? Because we depend on it to survive. How we eat and what; the clothes we wear, our shelter: these things are determined by the use we make of natural resources. And our technology is the mode by which we do this. Our culture, our spiritual existence, is intrinsically linked to our way of life on this level.

Marx’s typically simple formulation is that culture is a structure built on the economy. That the political system will be dependent on how we make a living. Tho’ fundamentally correct this reduces the myriad and chaotic ways in which culture and the economy interact to a big bold one-way arrow. This is Marxism’s problem.

The point: when technology significantly changes the way in which we earn our daily bread then the culture must change as well. Think of the plight of Aboriginal communities on the fringe. Their culture is wrapped up entirely in the business of survival on the Australian continent and to do that you must connect with everything. What happens when the largest empire the Earth has ever seen lands on you with millennia of technological progress behind it? What happens when that empire’s religion declares its beliefs the only ones legitimate in the universe? What happens when that empire is about to give birth to the modern world with its satellites and computers, its police force. What happens to your mind? To your soul? To the spirit of your people?

And what has happened to us? Something has happened, is happening, to us. To all of us. Things have changed. And things have stayed as they are. As a Western nation Australia deals with these things in the traditional manner: we argue about it. As a young nation that has never known other than the modern world we are likely to assimilate those things just as Gen Y takes to digital technology, naturally.

But education, family, friendship these things have taken the toll wrought of this properity and its perpetual work in a complex system that’s not generally understood. It’s cheaper to text and more polite but who amongst us is concerned with courtesy in a world of atomized competing particles? Certainly not schools who no longer entirely enforce polite behaviour among their students. Certainly not parents as much. The media tells us they’re afraid that people will think ill of them.

We are more inclined to be suspicious of strangers and less likely to be hurt by them for the same reason: the technocratic apparatus of surveillance, media saturation, population control and social engineering has finally fused itself into our society at the molecular-genetic level. We are civilized, finally. Has it made us happy? Has it made us wise?

It has made us what we have made of ourselves. We are living in a world of perpetual change. We expect progress. A trip thru a food court will show you this progress in the world’s major cuisines present in food prepared according to common denominator formulas and served fast in disposable plates eaten with disposable utensils. Classic fast food chains serve food to be eaten with the hands. See the people hunched over plastic table-and-chair sets nailed to an easily cleaned floor. We are apes and beginning to look like it again.

Our aspirations are intertwined not with action to be emulated but images to resemble. We assess people, not on how they behave but on how they look. We are archaic pagans worshipping the idols of sex and violence displaying their mysteries onscreen everywhere. Happy am I that I did not grow up in this postmodern swamp. I recall some semblance of innocence. Remotely. What have we made of ourselves? We, who expect any day to be living like the Jetsons?

I suppose it depends where you look. Always and everywhere things are falling apart around you. Always and everywhere things are being built, put together. Creation and destruction are written into the fabric of nature and nature is everywhere and in everything, even a shopping mall. Especially in a shopping mall.

This has been an endless stream of questions to which I don’t have answers. There’s no conclusion. Only the acknowledgement that spiritually there’s a hole in us and some brief views of how that manifests. I’m just a monkey on a rock. I want what all monkeys have always wanted: a meal, a laugh, children and love. And what do these desires amount to? I have no more words, only a picture…

Rammed Earth Home



  1. sage May 20, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    We are kindered souls. I agree with you completly. I love the house pictured…I could see my old cowboy bones soaking up the sun on the nifty rock porch.

    • AC Stewart May 20, 2013 at 6:46 am #

      Yeah, old cowboy boots’d go well on the porch there.

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