“Open the pod bay door, Hal” “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” —2001: A Space Odyssey
Resistance against Technological Dominance
On a space mission, the sentient computer HAL 9000, which was also the central control system of the spaceship, refused to execute the instruction of opening the hatch from the astronaut Dave when it was aware that he attempted to shut it down for its glitches. This classic scene of the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey brilliantly reflected the following paradoxical situation: human beings’ misgivings at and resistance against the prospect of being controlled by new technologies when they make a quantum leap in technological breakthrough. It has become an endless cultural dialectic in the society underpinned by technologies, oscillating between technological utopia and dystopia as well as between freedom and imprisonment.
We live in a society dominated by digital technology, from which escape is nowhere on the horizon. All qualities and differences have been coded into a more universalistic world by programming languages. Digital technology has demonstrated its powerful and unprecedented abilities in communication and control. The long-lasting tug-of-war between human beings and technologies has also escalated to a greater scale. In this situation, we need to be genuine and open-minded about technologies, as it is an effective strategy for positioning ourselves in this wrestling match.
We Live in Stories Where Tools Are Narratives
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay To mould me Man, did I sollicite thee From darkness to promote me, or here place In this delicious Garden?” —John Milton, Paradise Lost
The use of tools and techniques marked the dawn of human civilization, and there was an unprecedented burst of human economic and production activities as the technologies significantly advanced after the Industrial Revolution, which brought human civilization to the most flourishing scene in history. However, the power relationship between human beings and technologies has become questionable at the same time. A production-line worker is just a tiny cog in a vast machine, acting passively in coordination with the operation of the machine and thus losing its own agency for good.
New technologies are always peculiar and amazing. They tend to carry us into greater unknown before we manage to position ourselves in this turbulent world constructed with our senses, perceptions, actions and intellectual experiences. In particular, technical objects of every stripe have merged into an organism operating on the basis of multiple decisions since the era of motorized machinery. This organism has transcended individual or collection volition and evolved into an autopoietic system. As epistemic subjects, human beings have lost their epistemological subjectivity in such a technical system. They need to re-orientate themselves under the stress of disorientation.
Humans are thought-provoking beings. We always live in stories where tools are narratives. Techniques are neither neutral nor perfect. The invisible bodies, bio-politics and technical networks collectively dictate individuals’ real-life memories. Hidden behind the veil of technological development are an established organic technical system, political manipulation and market economy. We may write a more inspirational story if we could fully grasp these intertwined forces.
in_Subject: The Era of Inter-subjectivity
“With the machine, a discrepancy between technics and culture begins because the human is no longer a ‘tool bearer’.” —Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus
Technological advancement generated two revolutionary forces that run at cross-purposes. It provides human beings with proactive creativity and a congenial environment for production on the one hand, and threatens the value and freedom of human beings on the other. Individuals, as subjective actors, have no choice but to oscillate between both ends of the spectrum, sharing the collective anxiety about how to position themselves so as to regain their autonomy and creativity.
The general development of technologies have constituted a pluralistic, organic coupling system brimming with great uncertainty and figments of imagination. Such “organic uncertainty” is exactly the creative foothold that human subjects can secure therein, if you will. The theme “in_Subject” refers to a state of finding delight in mastering this technical system. This is an era in which technologies and human beings stand in an inter-subjective relationship to each other. Exploring the organic quality of techniques and promoting the knowledge, literacy and application of technologies are ergo the absolute prerequisites for modern people to regain their status as subjects.