Luxuries are the New Necessities

In Culture and Technology: A Primer J.D. Slack and J.M. Wise set out to explore the idea that a relationship exists between culture and technology. For anyone familiar with the reading of McLuhan, this relationship isn’t a new or novel one. What I found interesting was Slack and Wise’s examination of the cultural effects that technology has on society’s movement, comfort, and change.

When considering these forces on society it is fascinating was how cultural necessities, as defined by Slack and Wise as when “wants and luxuries become necessities” (p. 33), evolve into habits. Slack and Wise go on to state the habits, “become deeply entrenched in the way that culture is organized” (p. 33). If we investigate this quote deeper Slack and Wise are forming a through line to McLuhan’s thoughts on how the momentum of technology is continuously forming, manipulating, or massaging (you can pick your favorite synonym to match your level of technological determinism) our social relationships and interdependent lives.

As technology drives progress, our lives change from a less convenient state to a more convenient one. Slack and Wise believe the definition of conveniences has moved over time and this new modern meaning mandates a level of “personal ease and comfort” (p. 29) be an outcome of our lives.

Make us comfortable. Make life easy. Make life pain and trouble free. Meet all bodily needs.

At the end of their chapter titled Convenience, the authors briefly explore a perspective from Rosalin Williams called the “change journey” in which the goal of the journey is change. They say, “To change, in this view, is the point, pure and simple” (p. 40) and go onto predict that this commitment to change will lead to a culture that invests, “heavily in technological development with rampant disregard for any ill effects in its wake” (p. 40).

With this in mind, I can’t help but ponder these questions. Where do such moral questions as, “Are we prepared to be inconvenienced in order to obtain those noble convictions we as technological builder admire?”, “Are we able to properly access revolutionary technology if we are users of said technology and participants in said revolution?”, “Does the trajectory this new technology will put us on align with the type of world we would like to cohabit?” fit? These questions aren’t novel, they are retreads of what thinkers such as Langdon Winner have pondered for years. But they are of special emphasis because the cadence in we ask ourselves such cultural, ethical, and moral questions should match the speed in which new technology is delivered.

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technology and convenience, technological determinism, Culture and Technology: A Primer