Dying to be heard

Position Paper #3

Steffany Gundling

Technology has a way of suppressing our voices. This may seem like an oxymoron considering every time I go online I can instantly tell how many shots of espresso my Twitter friend has in his coffee. I also can read and write editorials, much like this one, on any topic I feel inclined to be interested in, exposing myself to the global village and the global village to myself. But Technology, in all its glory and liberty, has a way of shutting all of us up due precisely to these examples alone. With so many voices and so many opportunities to scream out our opinions, when are we ever heard or listened to? And to what extent will people go to in order to be louder than everyone else?

This draws me to the ‘Unabomber’. I had heard this word mentioned over the years but until I read a chapter focused on this in Slack and Wise’s Culture and Technology, I never gave much thought to the chaos of absolute freedom of speech and communication through technology. The chapter focuses on Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber and member of FC (Freedom club), and his anti-industrial revolution manifesto. Kaczynski’s famous manifesto believed that essentially the industrial revolution and all of it’s capitalistic qualities would inevitably be disastrous for society and that a revolt against technology was needed. In 1985, for Kaczynski, this revolt came in the form of mail-sent bombs to various experts in fields of strong technological backgrounds. Years later, when the taste of his reign of terror was dulled, he contacted newspapers and media outlets, demanding to be published, to be heard, and he would stop the death toll. Now Kaczynski could’ve easily been that crazy and psychotic guy that everyone labelled him to be (and most likely was), but the bombs and innocent deaths have catapulted a spotlight onto his otherwise ignored manifesto, which is now still being taught in universities and known worldwide. The deaths of innocent people was a price Kaczynski was willing pay in order to be listened to – and that he was. Essentially we can see this same fanatical method in religious fundamentalists (suicide bombers and terrorists) in today’s society. As CNN’s terror alert goes red, in our fear, we are all too eager to listen.

Should we go around killing people so everyone will listen to whatever burns and ignites our passions? No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. Is technology a time bomb ready to countdown the destruction of modern social structure? No. But a strong and unsettling question comes into my mind as I sift through my facebook news feed, dismissing and barely paying attention to how Dan’s day was or how much Jenny hates ice cream. As technology is already wrapping us up in its barrelling ambition forward, it is giving us all the freedoms we so aptly accept to uncensor ourselves to the world inexplicably. Through all the positive aspects of advancement and connectivity that these tools have given us, the balance of instant communication and expression may lead to an overall isolation in itself. Meanwhile updating my facebook status, the only question I undeniably ask myself is, “is anyone even listening?”

Works Cited

Slack, Jennifer Daryl and J. Macgregor Wise. Culture + Technology: a Primer. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. Print.

Word Count: 555

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3 Comments

Filed under 1, Postion Paper

3 responses to “Dying to be heard

  1. I’m going to play devil’s advocate with you here (’cause I love playing devil’s advocate).

    Prior to the rise of the blogosphere (heretofore refered to as the blagoblag, because if I’m going to use a stupid word, it might as well also be funny), if you had something to say and wanted to be heard, you had few options. You could, as Ted Kaczynski did, murder people to gain notoriety. You could slowly work your way through local papers and if you were really talented and driven, maybe make it to provincial/state papers or the nationals. You could work your way through a Masters or PhD program and have your work read by academics and pretty much no one else, or troll for a publisher for a book and maybe get picked up if someone took an interest. The people with the loudest voices were those in the media – the newspaper and book crowd, and all the way through their careers, they were and still are subject to filters. What does the editor think the public will want to read? If you don’t fit that bill, you don’t make it up the ladder. Most of us until the past decade had available to us the opinions of the local columnists, the national columnists, the guy who did the editorial on the evening news, and whatever book we happened to pick up.

    Now, everyone has a voice, as you say. However, contrary to that sea of voices simply drowning everyone out, they work together to lift those who have something interesting to say to the forefront. Look at amazing journalistic work being done by someone like Ben Goldacre at http://www.badscience.net. He’s followed around the world now. Prior to the blagoblag, he would have been a minor columnist in the Guardian, known only in the UK. Look at a blag like ArsTechnica, a better source for science and technology news than any magazine or other form of conventional media. I’m reading these things, as well as dozens of one-offs that float through the tubes carried by the recommendations of friends and the regular blogs I read, and still consuming the traditional newspaper, TV and radio media that I would have been twenty years ago. I probably read more than the average person, but even if average people read 1/4 what I do, they’re still hearing more voices, more differing opinions, more points of view than they might have a decade or two ago. You can write this article and have it read, and I can respond to it and have this response read, without the filter of an editor deciding whether it ought to go be one of three letters the paper is running that day. Of course, this is more a curse than a blessing in most cases, as the comments on any video on YouTube will attest.

    One can equate the situation to the music business. There will never be another Beatles, or another Michael Jackson, or another Madonna. Single artists who completely redefine pop music and sell over a hundred million albums are gone, never to return. But in the 1970s, you had to get very lucky to have your music heard by more than the local community. Very few bands ever made it on a label, and even fewer ever had much success. Today, it’s harder than ever to be a million-selling artist. But it’s never been easier to be a hundred-thousand selling artist. Popular musicians may not be able to afford 20-million dollar mansions in Florida anymore, but many, many more people can make a money in the music scene. Writing is the same way. It’s no longer the case that a few voices dominate the scene – anyone who has something truly valuable to say will be heard.

  2. Can make a money?

    Where’s the edit button on this thing…

  3. I don’t dispute the fact that if someone has something truly valuable to say that they won’t be heard. Neither am I contesting that new technology doesn’t advance careers or allow the underdog to be heard. The problem is that when you have so many underdogs coming forth at once, the audience becomes resilient and often only takes in what they want to, becoming specialized in what and how they absorb media due to overexposure.
    Also when it comes to the music industry – yes, myspace and youtube can spring an otherwise unknown artist into the spotlight. But the fact that we don’t have strong artist following anymore is actually my point. People don’t have the capacity or willingness to focus on an artist, rather moving on to the next due like an endless assembly line. One hit wonders have never been more prevalent. With everyone trying to launch their music, the attention still lies often on popular choice because how else is a person sopposed to filter through everything?

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