Banal

… it sounds funny. When I first heard it, I felt there must be a joke in there somewhere, but it somehow escapes double entendres. So, I left it printed with thousands of others on the pages of a Gutenberg legacy, the dictionary.  Until yesterday, when I realized that the dictionary has mechanized its utility, and sapped it of its meaning, its substance, because the dictionary offers no context.

The statement: technologies are “revolutionary and magical only when they become banal” (Jackson, Nielson, Hsu, 117) was revelatory… for me anyway. Two things happened: 1) I discovered a starting point for arguing that technologies are not neutral; and 2) I could finally articulate the importance of analyzing the social impacts of technology in the first place!

Banal. It could be the name of a small island country, independent of colonialism, yet hierarchical in its own right. The wictionary defines banal as: “common in a boring way, to the point of being predictable; containing nothing new or fresh.” So, on the island of Banal, the inhabitants are non-plussed, no longer pondering alternatives to existing social structures, and adapting to conditions of inequitable distribution of wealth, health, rights, and resources.

Often the argument against the neutrality of technology finalizes with a declaration that technologies cannot be good or bad, because they are amoral. However, “goodness” or “badness” does not rest with the device, but with the actions it spurs, intentional or unintentional.

Statements like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” are tempting, but don’t recognize the characteristics built into the device; for example, the play of target practice, the ease of use, the violence of a shot, and so on. These characteristics are themselves not neutral, they are guided by the nature of the device without ever broaching the subject of intention of morality.

But if you insist on personifying neutrality as a question of morality, check out this 1967 gouache and ink sketch by Nancy Spero, entitled:  s.u.p.e.r.p.a.c.i.f.i.c.a.t.i.o.n.

s.u.p.e.r.p.a.c.i.f.i.c.a.t.i.o.n. by Nancy Spero, 1967

Her depiction of humans passively suckling at the teets of an upside down flying mechanical beast that looks more like a sci-fi insect than one of the world’s great wonders, argues that the very neutrality of technology is itself detrimental.

Suck on that technocrat!


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About ahemmayispeak

Environmentalist Egalitarian Engineer Writer There, I finally said it. View all posts by ahemmayispeak

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