This world of high technologies is positively breath-taking, dizzying, ecstatic. The birth of the machine for work was the birth of the machine for pleasure.
The freedom we taste is contingent on a very regimented and domesticated environment. The freedom of the bungee jumper is contingent on the perfectly functioning textiles technology in the bungee cord. If the bungee cord is not manufactured according to stringent disciplinary standards, the freedom of the jump will become its opposite.
From the factory floor to the infinitesimal transistors inside every computer chip reigns an unfree hegemonic regime. Like the soldiers who provide the protective shell within which texts such as this can be ‘freely’ composed and published, the workers assembling computers can have no freedom in their duties. They are entirely subjugated to the demands of their jobs, which are imposed to a large extent by the science of the technology they are assembling.
In other words, we freely use the instruments they produce, and these function reliably because they were assembled exactly according to the rules. There is no place for dissidence on the assembly line. Dissidence would result in malfunctioning technologies.
Similarly, and this is not a metaphor, the chemical reactions inside the computer CPU are slave-like. They have no freedom. Any freedom there is error and sophisticatedly filtered out of sight out of mind . The weaknesses in the production chain produce substandard apparatuses, these are sold at a discount or trashed immediately. We all depend on the slave-like behaviour of the electrons in our circuits submitting to the laws of physics and chemistry.
Such ‘scientific’ laws are entirely abstract. By this I mean that they employ only chemicals which have been abstracted from their ordinary heterogenous suspensions in the atmosphere and in the plants, bodies and earth. These chemicals which behave so reliably must be abstracted from their accustomed habitat, purified and concentrated to the extreme. Often this means that they become deadly poisonous and horrifically polluting, but they behave! They behave marvelously to the beat of the electric current, the tribal drum of the electronic age. The electrons course around like infinitesimal remote controlled ants (or drones) through the circuits delivering charges. Hegemonischer gibt’s nicht!
The ‘creative’ ‘freedom’ we enjoy with computers, manipulating highly abstracted and disciplined images and sounds and texts on our devices, is predicated on unfree practices. This unfreedom is central and compulsory, inexorable to ‘free expression’.
We need, as Evgeny Morozov recently emphasizes, a much deeper analysis of the tricky and morally fraught relationship between techno-industrial unfreedom and social rights. And we need to acknowledge, honestly, scientifically, fundamentally, our continuing beholdenness to traditions of slavery-like unfreeness in the production chains of modernity.
Finally, we need to acknowledge, or at least earnestly envisage that, were programs, strategies and practices to become prevalent which could sustain other less-hegemonic conditions of production, such forms of productions will likely not be able to supply us with the same technological devices, and same techno-scientific vectors we are persistently informed are the unique guarantee of our survival as a species.
We will increasingly need to rely on much more involving and troubling things, possibly somewhat less convenient but potentially even more breath-takingly fulfilling and redeeming. We will need to rely more on eachother.
We can ground the ‘freedom’, especially that which is expressed in the unconditional enjoyment of automated services today, by countenancing the individual and social human legacies inscribed in the materials of the technologies.