WHY THE IMPACT OF NEW TECHNOLOGY IS NEITHER COMPLEX NOR CONTROVERSIAL
A paper for presentation during the Third International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference – session 4.17 (complexity and nonlinear thinking) – by Stuart G Hall on 24 June 2000.
It has been taken as an objective truth that new technology is complex and controversial, for a whole host of reasons. The desk-top computer is obviously more complex than the hand-held abacus. The genetic modification of crops is clearly more controversial than conventional plant husbandry. So it may seem like bloody mindedness to suggest otherwise – but I have a number of reasons to try.
Perversely my starting point is with more complexity, not less. New technology has allowed science to proclaim the twin births of complexity and chaos theory. For the sake of simplicity I will characterise this as the discovery of randomness in the seemingly predictable, and the predictable in the seemingly random. Ironically new technology has opened up the possibility of simplifying complicated phenomena.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? That’s because people are “fast pattern completers” (1). They too are able to simplify complicated phenomena. People have long understood the non-linear dynamics of existence – it is obvious in peasant societies faced with the struggle to survive. What’s new is that Internet technology is allowing people in the West to express this ability – the controversy is entirely from a scientific point of view:
“The hubris of science is astonishing. It will come as quite a surprise to countless poets, philosophers, theologians, humanists, and mystics who have thought deeply about such things for thousands of years that complexity, diversity, inter-connectedness, and self-organisation are neither new or a science.” (2)
The impact of new technology may appear to have turned everything upside down. But in reality its putting everything back into place! (3)
(1) Farrell, Winslow How Hits Happen, Forecasting Unpredictability in a Chaotic Marketplace, 1998.
(3) Tina, on the birth of her one-year-old girl: “It has turned everything gloriously upside-down, while simultaneously putting everything in its place!” http://babyzone.com/mom2mom/motherhoodresults.htm (now babble.com)