24 May 2010

Our Cravings For Technology

Our demand for electronic products, most notably mobile phones, has become increasingly stronger. Just when we are considering whether we should get an iPhone, Apple will start bombarding us with newer versions of it. Just when we are struggling whether we should get a Kindle, Apple will remind us of the release of the iPad. In the technological civilisation of ours, technology never ceases to generate our previously neglected material needs and conspires to escalate consumerism and our financial necessity to a newer level. If technology, as we have been told, is to simplify our life, why, then, does it create more problems rather than solutions?

Our prediction of technology is generally way ahead of our time, but typically frighteningly true. Our unaided minds can no longer ward off the thrills these devilish technological products wish to generate. These products enforce us to lose our power of concentration. Rather than letting us take our time to read the instruction manuals, new products emerge to assure us possession of even more sophisticated machinery.

Take, for instance, mobile phones. It is not uncommon in Hong Kong to see them being dumped before they deteriorate. Driven by the free market economy, the life span of a mobile phone is artificially reduced from 5 years or longer to a merely half a year. Upon our contemplation whether we prefer touch pad or traditional buttons, technology will have already moved on before it reaches the market, suggesting that perhaps using our inherent linguistic instinct is better than our traditional reliance on bodily movements. How much easier a phone call can be made by mere utterance.

If any criticism, aside from the environmental issue, has to be made for the undue progressiveness of technology, rather than blaming it on businessmen who are legitimately testing the limits of capitalism, perhaps it comes the time our human nature should suffer analysis. Though the internet invites us to render them redundancy, new models of fax machines never cease to appear. Though the iPhone is pretty much capable of handling everything, there is a rising trend that using an outdated mobile phone which was once popular in the 70's (famously known as "water bottle" in Cantonese) is considered stylish and hip. Though pressing buttons is generally regarded as a more convenient way to dial phone numbers, one might preserve his own aesthetic obsession by perfectly fitting a rotary telephone into his vintage home. Therefore, the undue progressiveness of technology has owed much to the market, that is, the consumers, rather than the morally confused businessmen. Our desire for novelty is gaining its unmentionable gravity.

Are we then eternally condemned by our desire of novelty? Are we, as the philosopher Karl Marx predicted, destined to be obedient drones under the capitalist society? Technology may perhaps put us in a passive role and deprive us of what it means to be human, but that does not suggest that it is impossible to reverse the role. Most world religions realise that there lies an archaic suspicion of the changeability of human nature, so rather than modifying God's work, they seek to suppress desires by sending us off to churches and reading scriptures every hour or every weekend. However, all this is too pessimistic about the human race. We should, on the contrary, direct it to outlets that are less harmful.

Our longing for technological products is largely based on magazines that tell us what the current trend is. If we are to liberate from the bondage of Marxist accusation, we should look for style that suits us rather than what advertisements tell us. All works of design tell us about the kind of live we wish to live in. They tell us about certain ideals we wish to sustain in ourselves. While helping us in practical ways, they should also reflect on us certain ideas of good life and what we want to become. Therefore, we do not just need a mobile phone that can help us connect with others and allows us to browse the web using Wifi and 3G, but we also need a mobile phone that speaks to and for us. It should suggest the values that we uphold and console our longing to express panic and despair.

We are not necessarily led by technology. Our conscious selection of styles allows us to strike a balance between tyranny and free will. It articulates the idea that we all long to preserve the values that are nearly destroyed by our mechanical civilisation but at the same time we can no longer refuse to realise our technological needs if we are to survive in the modern society. So instead of submitting our taste to iPhone and Blackberry, we should find mobile phones that are perfectly moulded so as to represent who we are.


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