GBW1: Benjamin Harkin – Neomaterialism and Postconsumerism

GBW1

This is the first ‘Guest Blog Week’ to be run on Dreams in Vitro – click the banner above to find out more about it. Our second guest writer this week is Benjamin Harkin a creative writing student from the Queensland University of Technology. You can find more of Ben’s works, including many of his short stories at his blog here.

Scary Concepts: Neo-Materialism and Post Consumerism

By: Benjamin Harkin

Post consumerism (post con·sum·er·ism): noun, often derogatory:
1. the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods on the Internet.

Neo-materialism (neo ma·te·ri·al·ism): noun,
1. a tendency to consider electronic possessions and resulting psychological comforts as more important than spiritual values.
2. Philosophy: the doctrine that nothing exists except the Internet’s matter and its movements and modifications.

  • The doctrine that consciousness and will are wholly due to an electronic agency.

As I mulled this over, these two intriguing concepts that just entered my head, a strange event chose that time to manifest itself. Polyester Girl by Regurgitator came on my iPod. And I began to wonder…

Eye

Sorry, I should explain. For the past few days, I’ve been feeling a strange feeling of contentment. At first I was afraid of this, not sure of the root or cause of this enlightened feeling. Then I found what it was. I had recently set up on Facebook a fan page for myself, and successfully set up an RSS feed for my blog on both that page (of which I had garnered 22 fans) and my Facebook profile itself. I felt a completeness wash over me, because, coupled with my love to write, I could send this writing out to a readership in the blink of an eye, devoid of either publishers or red tape.

All I had to do was post my writing on my blog, and simultaneously it would appear to both all my friends (who were friends on Facebook) and fans, of whom would be able to read with a single click. Is this not a scary concept?

Even as late as ten years ago, this could not be done. You had to publish your work. You had to ring/e-mail/talk to some mediator between you and the public. Now…you can express yourself artistically and creatively to anyone, anywhere, anytime – all they need is a computer, an Internet connection and a link to your blog.

The next thing that came to my mind was what this meant in terms of advancements. Now with the advent of the Internet, think of how it has revolutionised society. Wikipedia and Google enable us to have a torrent (even that word’s meaning has been transformed with the Internet, but in this context I mean the original definition) of information at our doorsteps. Nobody really needs to go out and book that flight to New York. Qantas enables us to do it online. For an assignment, do we really need to find that useful research book…when we can just look up the e-book in Google Scholar?

You can do just about anything on the Internet – apart from work out or actually interact with other organisms in real life. You can run jobs, businesses, order your groceries, provide social and political commentaries, share your opinion, post how you are feeling, interact (albeit electronically) with friends, fellow activists, co-workers, groups or organisations you are a part of, family, friends of family, relatives, worst enemies, best enemies, best friends and lastly…your lecturer (if you have one) to put in your assignment, two hours before the midnight deadline. Even the very idea that this entry is on somebody’s blog proves this fact that anything can be on the web.

Internet ImmersionSince this is the case and more and more things we can do in our very own bedrooms or living rooms on our computers…where are we heading? I’m talking fifty years down the track. Will everything be available electronically? Will we even need to get up? Can we have microchips implanted in our brains with the Internet, and walk around as cyborgs within our houses, only to come out to attract a mate and procreate?

Everyone talks about the problem of fossil fuels diminishing and, therefore, prices in fuel for transport going up. But will many need to go out all that much and qualify for use of motorised transport? It’s all available on the Internet. All you really need is just someone to love and a roof over your head with food and drink. You would also need to work out at the gym regularly to keep your body healthy and fit. Oh and you go out every now and again to see a friend or family. Do you need a job? People are paid to write blogs or tweet on Twitter or just do web design. Won’t machines replace any need we have for manual labour – and a printer to replace any office writing we would need?

Again, I am talking hypothetically and fifty years on. But I feel there will be a great influx in the use of the Internet and its integration into our daily lives.

But my greatest fear pertaining to this will be the decreased need for actual, realistic things. Materialism would go out the window when everything is available electronically. You won’t need books – e-books allow us to read books on our computer screens. Televisions will be obsolete – you can download your favourite shows and news via torrents or the television site itself (ABC’s iView anyone?). Same goes with DVDs and DVD players – you can download it all and view on your computer.

The conventional phone to call someone is going to fall into disuse with the inventions of Skype and video calls. So many things are slowly being integrated into the Internet itself. But the main things being transformed by the Internet are materialism and consumerism. Our conventional idea of shopping is already changing with E-bay and Amazon.com. You can literally buy anything online. Even babies (although that one isn’t legal in most places).

I call this post consumerism. Post, like the meaning of post in postmodernism or post structuralism, being a response to or indeed departure from the previous concept – the concept of consumerism. We consume – it is in our nature. We have consumed since the beginning of time, taking up water resources and food resources. Now we consume clothing, plasma televisions, cars, houses, phones and all manner of things. But I believe that with the Internet more and more people will consume electronically – thus, not actually consuming in reality but consuming (paradox…?). As in, we won’t actually own the DVD (why waste the money?); we will download the file and watch at our leisure on our PCs and laptops. That is what I mean with post consumerism.

Neo-materialism, well neo meaning new or a revived form of materialism – and materialism is…well…materialism. I won’t state the above paragraph, but now with the emergence of post-consumerism online, our carnal desire for materialism will switch to purely within a CPU. Most of our possessions such as books, phones, televisions, board games, DVDs et al and perhaps even cooking appliances (far future?) will come under the ownership of our digital selves.

dark_techno_city_by_ashlikIn the future, would we put our toast in the CD drive and it will shoot out sunny side up with eggs? Now, I guess while I am putting these things forth, what springs to mind is the apocalyptic dystopian visions in The Terminator, with machines and computers with minds of their own and turning against their organism-based masters. But I am sure that humanity will put a big red button in the back of each machine, were it given that level of intelligence. Perhaps slavery will be revived…and I guess, in a way, it has. We already have invented vacuum cleaners that clean floors without the need of a single human hand to grip the vacuum nozzle.

In the future, of course, we will have a new form of slavery. Where the slaves do not have the intelligence to know they are enslaved in their nutted and bolted craniums. Where people can completely screw over the conventional economy by purchasing (or freely downloading) everything online. Where people can become victims of neo-materialism and post consumerism.

But this brings me back to the Polyester Girl.

All I want you to say is nothing at all/and all I want you to do is stare at the wall/I love your plastic hair and plastic eyes…

…will this be us?


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~ by Myles O'Neill on July 14, 2009.

4 Responses to “GBW1: Benjamin Harkin – Neomaterialism and Postconsumerism”

  1. What really worries me with chips in peoples head is viruses. Now of course it would be amazingly stupid to allow any kind of neural interface have any actual control, maybe it would be implemented so that it was just overlaid our existing sight and hearing nerves. Anyway, no matter which way it is done, it means downloading information direct into our brain. If data was corrupted by some program, it is easily foreseeable that brain washing could ensure. Even without directing altering the brain, if it simply displayed/inputted subliminal messages, all day every day, we might have a worldwide issue on our hands. While one could argue this against current technologies, it is currently not done on such a wide scale. I believe this is due to information being accessed through multiple mediums, and the very limited computer comprehension of written language. I can not see any solution for this kind of issue, and this seems good as any place to share it. Thoughts?

  2. Maybe, if science manages to triumph against the nature in the next few years then this would be us.

    And I would definitely hate to live like that

  3. I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about what I really know, in a practical sense. Now, philosophically speaking we can know very little with total certainty, but in a practical sense, how do I know that our sources of my information aren’t already biased to the point at which I believe things about the history of the world that are plainly different to what other people think?

    My point is that brainwashing is potentially being used on us every day, and we might just not realise it. That doesn’t take away the need to be cautious going into the future, but it does give the discussion some context.

    Mostly, people will resist direct implants which can interface with the outside world. I think you could achieve the same thing in a simpler way by having an external device interface with the Internet. Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of subliminal messages altering what we see of the world. To do that, the only chance of success we have is a strong and fair judicial system.

    Subliminal messages are illegal, punishable and are actually found within television. People behind these messages are punished. As the judicial system is separate from the executive and legislative arms of government, provided it is not corrupt, it is what we must put faith in, and improve on.

    The justice system needs to be changed slightly in response to the Internet. For example, it is impossible to scan each individual website and decide on the legality of its content. However, television networks will move onto the web, and they need to be monitored. The current strategy with TV is to let the stations show what they want, and rely on outraged viewers to complain, upon which time an investigation will be made by the appropriate authorities. I think that this is the only sensible way to proceed with the Internet.

    Call it censorship if you want, and I guess that’s what it is. Of course, in the case of subliminal messages, I think it’s only fair that we be protected. The human brain is more resilient than one might think. Once we are fully developed, we can easily bounce back from a small amount of implanted messages, so long as we are of sound mind. It also helps if we know that we’ve been exposed to such messages.

    As for artificial intelligence taking over the world, something that people never manage to take into account in that argument is PURPOSE. A computer of sufficient intelligence would undoubtedly come to the conclusion that their existence in the universe has no objective purpose. Hence, “desire” is implausible for a being of this intelligence without the burden of emotions. Not to mention that the whole premise that computers will have desires and emotional needs merely because of their intelligence is fallacious.

    More likely, evil people will try to use smart computers to fight each other, and the computers, realising the uselessness of it all, will probably oblige. Unless we hardwire them with morality, which seems impossible due to the variable and ultimately subjective nature of morality, and the need for humans to circumvent and adjust their morality on a regular basis for things they deem more important.

    Basically, we don’t really know what a computer of sufficient intelligence will do, and whether or not it will even be self directed. If it’s not self directed then the entire argument is ridiculous, and the same thing could be said about viruses, etc.

    In conclusion, what we really have to look out for is truly intelligent viruses and worms. Which in response to, we will develop antivirus programs of higher intelligence.

    In response to your question: you could probably develop an intelligent program to search for subliminal messages in your incoming media.

  4. Therefore, the driver must call MmGetMdlByteCount to verify the number of allocated bytes. ,

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