After the Apocalypse: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Technology, by Barry Taylor, PhD

Any new technology enhances, retrieves, reverses and obsolesces all that came before it

by Barry Taylor, PhD


I have been thinking a fair bit about this fascination that there seems to be with the idea of post-apocalypse, post-technological collapse. It’s evident in things as diverse as The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and JJ Abrams produced, Revolution‘s, exploration of a world without electricity.

It seems to echo the on-going love/hate relationship we have with technology. On the one hand we are enraptured with what technology can accomplish and how connected it allows us to be, and what it can deliver, literally into our hands. On the other hand, we speak a lot about the downside of technology-the loss of face-to-face communing, i-pod isolation, hyper-individualized mediation, and these shows seem to be wrestling with those duelling forces at work in our lives.

There is an interesting article in Esquire magazine online about the role/s technology plays in enhancing and diminishing our lives – a worthwhile read. This is something that Marshall Mcluhan addressed with his laws of media tetrad, putting forward the view that technology, any technology, causes four major effects upon the user:  it (whatever “it” is) enhances, retrieves, reverses and obsolesces. We seem to live somewhere in the tension between those dynamics, each of us being pulled by various preferences, positions, access etc.

Mcluhan There are often times when I would happily give up my cell-phone, but the idea of going back to a pre-electric world–one that would also herald a return to the ‘dark’ in so many other areas, is not one that I care to visit. I think we have to find our own balance with technology and its use, misuse, disuse.

Much like Hunger Games–Revolution presents a sort of frontier-survivalist mentality–both interestingly, are heavily led by females–the girl with the crossbow in the NBC ad would not look out of place at all in the HG artworks, advertising and narrative ideology–this idea of living close to the land, technology-free, surviving off of ones wits and ancient-or older, close-to-earth wisdom, holds great appeal.

We rely so much on technology–and for most of us, most of it is a mystery in terms of how it actually works–i’m still stuck on radio-waves!!! Derrida used this idea to great degree in his writing on knowledge and our relation to technology. For him, the space created between our reliance upon and ignorance of, technology, was precisley the cause of a revived and renewed interest in animis, magic and mystery–i.e. religious belief is affected by technology relation.

And of course, all these shows draw heavily upon the American Obsession with all things apocalyptic–which continues to be expressed at the heart of much of our culturally mediated imagination. Oh, and AC/DC are still cool!

For more by Barry Taylor See:

Finding Soul, by Barry Taylor, PhD

Nevermind the Bricolage

One Reply to “After the Apocalypse: Our Love/Hate Relationship with Technology, by Barry Taylor, PhD”

  1. I haven’t read the Esquire article, but wanted to chime in.

    I’ve sampled extensively from the Post Apocalyptic fare, including the Road, the Walking Dead and Revolution.

    A main theme in all of these dramas is an examination of the human heart. Are people essentially good or evil. In each of these shows or movies, all the boundaries of civilized culture are lost, and people become free to act according to their true nature.

    It maybe goes to the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Would the Rich Young Ruler still have been able to follow the law, if he did not have the benefits of being rich?

    An interesting contrast to these Apocalyptic programs is Star Trek.

    In Star Trek, we see a 24th century, in which human beings, through the help of technology have evolved. In Star Trek there is a solution to every problem. No worries, if the science isn’t there, by the end of the episode, someone will find an answer.

    The common theme in both post apocalyptic shows and Star Trek, is that we are able to be better people, and make both easier and better choices, when we have the benefits of our technologically rich society. Lacking that technology, I am forced to make difficult and impossible choices. These choices often carry significant consequences.

    Personally, I find these programs interesting, but altogether depressing. My favorite is probably Zombieland, which turned the whole Zombie idea on its head and made it absurd. (as if Zombies were not already absurd).

    On the other hand, from a plot standpoint, I can appreciate these movies and programs. In the end, this isn’t Star Trek, and the answer isn’t modifying the Heisenberg compensator, or some other ridiculous piece of made up technology. In the end, we have to make very difficult choices. It’s about human beings interacting in very humans. We see the very best and very worst of human nature (and everything in between). All of this makes it a little more interesting.

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