Chapter 54 ~ “Technology: The Opiate of the Intellectuals, with the Author’s 2000 Perspective” by John McDermott
McDermott doesn’t waste much time attacking Mesthene for his middle of the road approach in discussing technology and society. Although McDermott does believe Mesthene “is anti-capitalist in spirit” (a spirit shared by McDermott), he also thinks Mesthene “lacks bite” in his argument (638).
McDermott strikes a very personal chord in his essay as he uses Vietnam (and his experience there) to illustrate the importance ot examining Mesthene’s abstract distinction between technology’s positive opportunities and its “negative externalities.” He shows two features from this anecdote.
1- From the standpoint of the planners, the bombing program McDermott describes is very rational because it creates unavailable opportunities.
2- From the standpoint of goals and values not programmed by designers, the program is very irrational.
McDermott bashes the notion that technology “is a self-correcting system” (640) and the idea of “laissez innover,” which Mesthene suggests will benefit all of mankind; McDermott, on the other hand, sees this principle as a way to mark a separation between those who make the technology and those who consume it (the rest of us).
The GI story example starting on page 642 painted a stark illustration of this separation in that there are those who have the information and there are those (like the GIs) who without the information needed “placed in a position where their social behavior is governed largely by the principle of blind obedience” (643).
Though McDermott notes that there have been technological innovations that have brought forth a democratization to society, we are now (now being 1969) moving back to a more stratified society where once again, there will be a small elite of knowledge makers and a majority who are led by this group.
Not surprisingly, in his retrospective in 2000, McDermott still sees the same problems as he did 40 years ago and shows how with each generation, from the 40s onward, there has seem to be this same issue with a new title, from the “Economic Growth” narrative of the 40s to “The Market” narrative of 2000.
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