Thursday, 13 September 2012

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

* Isn't that a sort of utilitarian argument as it relates to our eventual survival? So if there is an inevitable crash, we'll all be turtles wallowing upside down in the mud. But what if there is not a crash? What if these technologies simply open up more time for things like reading to children, or good conversation?

Zerzan: Well, there may not be a crash. I'm not a so-called collapsist where I'm just banking on this all failing. I think there's a good chance that as our systems get more independent and vulnerable that some small thing could unravel, a lot of it, but I'm certainly not counting on that. It's up to us to make choices, not just sit around wait for the whole thing to fall apart. But yeah, there are tradeoffs. That's why people buy these things; they do have use value and you can find the attractive part of the exchange. Like you just said, you can pay attention to your family, you can do something valuable, or maybe you'll just look at another screen. Unfortunately, if you look at what is actually happening, if you look at it empirically, we're spending more and more of our time looking at one tiny screen or another that gets back to mediation, the sense that there are more and more layers between us and the things that matter.

* Getting back to Jobs' legacy, is there an Apple product, or an Apple-enabled product that you regard as particularly corrosive to culture?

Zerzan: I was reading in The New York Times about this Baby Cry app for the iPhone that interprets the cry of a baby when it wakes up, whether it's wet or hungry or whatever. I look at that and I think to myself the human species has been around for two million years and now we have a fucking machine to tell us what our babies' cries mean. If that isn't horrendous, I don't know what is. To me, that is just so telling about our dependence on this stuff and you can say this is a loony example, but is it not indicative of where we're heading? It's everywhere, this dependency. When did you need a life coach? When were there billions and billions of dollars in self-help books? 

As for Jobs himself, I was reading all of these editorials talking about the elegance of Apple and what Jobs did to reintroduce an aesthetic and I thought to myself: you've got millions of these devices which are the exact same thing and which to me are pretty sterile: where is the artistry? Isn't that more of the massification of everything? You've got all of these iPhones that are absolutely identical and yet shouldn't there be something in there that's personally distinct or something with your own stamp on it? It seems to me a spurious claim to say that Jobs gave us all this artistry and aesthetics; that's only true in a completely mass produced sense. Is that how we now define artistry and aesthetics? I would hope not.

* In closing, if we look at five hundred years--crash or no crash--how do you see Jobs being remembered?

Zerzan: If we survive that long, we're not going to have a positive image of Jobs, because at some point we're going to realize where all of this "elegant" technology comes from. It all rests on industrialization, ugly stuff that we don't want to think about right now, stuff that's happening in India and China. You can wax poetically about this clean, gleaming thing that is the Steve Jobs product, but in order to get it you have to have the ugly, systematic assault on the natural world. That's the other obvious thing that hasn't been a part of the conversation either. If we continue at this rate, we'll be lucky to make it fifty years. 

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