A Serving of Casual Insults
Most mornings, often before breakfast, I find myself in a righteous fury about having been forced to do some stupid thing to meet the incomprehensible demands some huge global server, presumably for the convenience — or, I often think, amusement — of some glib, pompous techies who are already rich, and getting richer at my expense. Today, I’m wasting hours trying to figure out how or why a software update on my MacBook Pro has suddenly caused a Microsoft Word program (for Mac. I’m not quitethat stupid) to stop saving my comments as it always did, and begun to insist on sending them somewhere (OneDrive, it turns out, in the Cloud. Oh, of course! Why didn’t I think of that?) then being told that it might have been caused by a faulty network connection with Google Docs (notice how that makes it MY fault!)? Google? Why? Meanwhile, I’m force-fed a stream of cheerful texts and images about how l wonderful it all is, how it will make me more efficient (oh, good!), all accompanied by the effectively impermeable deafness to my screaming.
I do HATE it. Not too long ago, when I was still happy and hopeful about the Internet in general and its potential for building connections and communities, I kept mixing up my Apple and Google IDs! How could anyone be so utterly clueless, you might think. I can be. And am. And I’m beginning to take a perverse pride in it. I don’t know exactly who “they” are. They don’t seem to be the ones you actually encounter in customer service, apparently well-intentioned people with a surpassing translation problem. But who knows? They are part of a mechanism that eternally produces yet another serving of casual insults. It very rarely suspects us of having any brains or insight, not to mention a legitimate problem. The staff is polite. They wouldn’t call us “dumb fucks” (Mark Zuckerberg’s most revealing moment), but they might sometimes be content with their own condescending tone, flagrantly manipulative treatment of others, and sweeping indifference to what they’re actually doing.
On many occasions, Flusser compared the current shift in communication technology to the invention and slow spread of writing, some 5 millennia ago (I habitually compare it to the transformation from human to animal in the old potboiler, American Werewolf in London. It dates me, I know): a few people actually were literate, and quite a few more knew it was a very, very powerful technology — the sort of thing that could make some people kings and turn everyone else into their servants. Today, a few people write code and even better, imagine things mathematically. Quite a few more understand how to use that to control other people. We always have choices. They could try to help us. They don’t have to use it to demean, frustrate, and probably ultimately kill all of us, but that’s what they’re doing.