Niagara Gazette

Columns

November 17, 2013

SINGER: Tackling our technological ingratitude

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — You can also watch the vase-making process by a pro, and read displays on early path finders like Michael Owens (his name part of Owens Corning), creating a bottle-making machine at a time when amateurs loved tinkering — as hands-on believers in their country’s ever rosier future.

You also learn of fortunate accidents, such as Prohibition diminishing the market for these bottles, impelling the hunt for what became lucrative fiberglass — to make insulation, fishing rods, you name it.

I know that regional engineers could give us many other innovative examples from the hard work performed in chemical factories that boomed in these parts. All of which makes me feel like an ignorant inheritor, blindly taking what once took such persistence and industry to make functional.

In “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” (1976), Daniel Bell amplified Marx’ dictum that the bourgeoisie would become their own grave-diggers. For Bell, capitalism had thrived by the values of puritanical discipline and plain hard work. But it produced a culture (not least, the ‘60s counter-culture) very much its opposite. I used to think of that regarding uses of Polaroid cameras, Edward Land’s great invention; but of course computers and the internet far out-trump Polaroid in terms of what pioneers like Bill Gates gave us by their innovations in that domain. But what they also wrought was discipline-eroding facility for gamers and so forth.

Speaking of gambling, few of us understands what patient engineering went into creating the machines and even the sounds that jangle inside local casinos — that dissonant symphony of tune snippets you hear, not to mention cell phone rings, and so much else.

So — would we be better off remaining in the forests as Rousseau’s noble savages, and who needs canned goods, phones, and the rest? But again, we’ve grown used to what we have — technological manna that more and more, seems an entitlement.

However, this push-button facility deludes people into thinking the world’s a rational place — as rational as a machine. When of course it ain’t necessarily so! ...

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

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