Like some people I talk to, I have doubts about where continuous technological disruptions are taking us. Many seem to be primed for whatever comes next. But I have long been convinced of Jacques Ellul’s critique that technological means have a way of imposing their own unforeseen ends upon those who utilize them. Nothing is just a tool. Techno-capitalism is an especially potent interplay of two kinds of means: financial assets and technical know-how. Many good things generate from that interplay. But in my lifetime we have tended increasingly to equate progress with technological innovation. Especially with the digital revolution, much “progress” amounts to speed, efficiency, and proliferation — not necessarily to the benefit of all people or the planet. Here are some songs that muse on this dilemma.
We begin with a song about a relatively low-tech tool, the gun. It’s been around for centuries, but it seems to have taken over the minds of so many in America and beyond, despite the terrible toll on human life and happiness guns take. “The Gun” (2018) comes from the Moments of Truth CD included on this site.
The instantaneous global Now of the internet seems to be swallowing up our sense of history. Not just the past but even future, except for near-term questions like what’s next? how can I avoid it? or make the most of it? “Real Time” (2021) from The Last of the Brothers Doug? takes a deep dive into the “continuous reptilian reflex.”
The internet used to be called the Information Highway. But by now, informational technologies have so enclosed us we hardly think about it anymore. We just Google our next question. But there are bigger questions that are not simply a matter of information. The accumulation of facts, statistics, data, forestalls questions of value, morality, meaning, the life of the Spirit. At a certain point, information becomes “Miss Information,” the goddess who always beckons us on (2020, from Every Doug Agrees).
The perpetual drive toward the new and the next produces an “Aspirational Culture,” the pervasive affects of promise, ambition, hype, advertising, and political manipulation. Besides our own personal aspirations, we may easily become mesmerized by media bombardment. Borrowing from Isaiah 6, this song’s refrain utilizes paradoxical intention , encouraging us not to see or hear what’s actually coming. (2021, from The Last of the Brothers Doug?) In this recording, a voice emerges somewhere between Leonard Cohen and “The Monster Mash.”
Memes “go viral.” “Me-Me, Me Be a Meme” (2020, from Every Doug Agrees) adopts the personality of this “virus desirous” and the toll it takes upon actual thinking. Undeniably “cute” or “clever,” memes “seem to mean, mean to seem,” putting the “mind in a kink.” They short-circuit the larger-scale reflection and invention that humanity and the earth so desperately need.
Finally, these concerns are not new for me and some others. As I followed the stampede into cyberspace in the mid-1990s, I sensed the gnostic, anti-material potential of this noosphere. Even as we busily interconnect to work for peace and justice, and save the earth, the internet draws us further away from the earth, its species, and our neighbors. “My Love Dwells in Cyberspace” (1998, from Chronicles of Babylon, Vol. 1, but not included in The Best of Chronicles of Babylon on this site) is the satire of a man for whom “beyond the surf, something beckoned.”