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Monday, July 28, 2003

Wendell Berry doesn't understand technology ... 

... and how could he? He doesn't even type his own manuscripts. Apparently, his part of the home economics is to sit around and espouse, while everyone around him takes care of the details. The problem with anyone who thinks a "cottage industry" is something that includes an anti-technology essayist is that his whole simple little life depends entirely on an incredibly interdependent technological society. The only reason he has time to sit around and write in the first place is because a wide variety of technologies have relieved him of the burden of foraging for food and shelter like all the other animals. He's not out breaking ground with a hoe, like his Celtic ancestors. He's living a life made possible only through the advancement of the very technology he eschews. What sets us apart from the other animals? It is not the size of our brain, or of any other physical attribute, nor is it necessarily a function of self-awareness, for who are we to say that the dolphins aren't self aware and pretty damn pleased with themselves? No, what sets us apart is our technology... the physical ways we shape the world around us, to make the No. 2 pencils, the pads of paper, the cardigan sweaters that stodgy old anti-technology essayists are so easy to picture being fond of.

Ol' Wendell is barely worth refuting. Anyone who doesn't understand a word processor is never going to get the internet. The mind-boggling bass-ackwardness of eschewing technology in an essay published on the internet is like bringing a blue-assed monkey to church. Since technology has nothing to offer him, he will never plumb the virtually endless treasure trove of knowledge that is this sparking web we've created. It's not all "South Park" rips and porn chat Wendell, a whole cornucopia of information is available with the click of the mouse and a quick tickle of the ol' google. What fruit you pluck from the horn of plenty is up to you.

Of course, Wendell thinks he has some condemning things to say about the oppressive state of the modern 'efficient' technological workplace and some of his charges may even contain a kernel of truth, but they are inevitably the worst ludicrous extremes of example that one might search to find. Most folks aren't numbered to death at work, Wendell. For every "office worker whose computer keystrokes are monitored by the central computer in the personnel office, and who will be fired if the keystrokes-per-minute figure doesn’t match the corporate quota" there are many more like me, working flex time, doing technical design work, surfing the 'net, and generally just enjoying our non-manual labor lifestyles. Wendell asks: "How have men improved themselves by submitting to it?” Meaning by ‘it’, ‘this technological economy’, and finds his own brand of logic with his response: “The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it." Wendell, I labor less, get paid more, and have a boundless variety of pursuits available in the time I'm not an underling toiling for the boss in an endless chain of boss/underlings. What's so soulfully degrading about the fact that my hands are not blackened and cracked with my exertions for survival? Am I not in an improved position, vis-à-vis my relative quantity of available time for creative, even humanitarian, thought than were my cave-men predecessors? Have you ever felled a tree with an axe Wendell, rather than sitting around and watching your buddy do it? I have, and let me tell you I'd much rather buy it by the board foot at Home Depot, let alone cut it with a chainsaw ... and so would you, since I’d lay any money that you didn’t build the house you live in with your own hands. You’re a hypocrite, a poor joke, Wendell ol’ boy. Go ahead, decry the soullessness of this modern world. The truth is the same as it’s always been... the world is what you make of it.

And let’s been honest with all the folks at home Wendell: if many people choose to spend their free time watching sitcoms and eating fast food, and you decry the nature of the world that’s brought them to this state, that's not an indictment of technology- that's a comment on the stupidity of the masses.




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