Low-tech (part 1)
In the ages-old tradition of Regionalism, this website makes no attempt to keep up with flashy technological 'innovations'; New Regionalism, therefore, is intentionally low-tech – after all, even 'Flash' (we're now told) has had its day.

So here we opt for content over form. In the 'post-literate' society, of course, this poses a challenge. The age of Twitter has already created a cultural aversion to anything more than three lines of text; unfortunately, the Devil is in the details.

Our cultural 'fine print', which almost no one ever reads, is to be found in books that no longer appear in book shops or on the shelves of local libraries; and even if they did, it is unlikely they would ever be signed out. Some of the more important works, such as The Impact Of Science on Society, have virtually disappeared in printed form (though, happily, this text is now available online). Others, such as The Philosophy Of Modern Music, by the editor's admission, appear to have been suppressed after the release of the first edition. This book, at least, has found its way back into print, but who, other than the specialist, reads material of this kind? Social Theory and Public Relations seem so dull, in our entertainment based culture, that virtually no one but students moving into related fields will read them; and thus, this shadowy world remains in the shadows. Nevertheless, anyone curious enough to have been enticed here, we hope, will read on.

An extended commentary, on Smart Phones and Blockchain technology (alluded to on the main page), can be found in part 2. Anyone who doesn't already know about Blockchain soon will, and it is important you read this alternate view first (or early on) as the media and popular press will not present this perspective. Click here to jump ahead, but we hope you will continue reading. This latest cultural Revolution – the Digital Revolution – is having an impact no less profound than that of the Industrial Revolution, so it may be helpful to have a little background first:

Regionalists are not Luddites. We do not suggest anyone smash their 'machines', and it must be said, even the Luddites did not object to all machines; just those that disrupted the communities in which they lived – take this as you will. The Threshing Machine (which was the device they most objected to) served to perpetuate the infamous land clearances (in another way), forcing the peasant class from the land and into the cities, where they would become virtual slave labour in the new factory system. The questioning of technology takes many forms, but Regionalists today continue this tradition of questioning, for the good of everyone. We remind people now, at the beginning of a new chapter in the Digital Age (labelled, justifiably perhaps, the 'Blockchain Revolution') of the warnings issued, and then promptly forgotten, in this era of cultural amnesia.

We continue to ask, therefore: "Who does this technology really serve?"

It isn't likely that anyone could stop the development of technology (or that we would want that even if it were possible); although Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and others (who presumably know a little more about such things than the rest of us) express concern over of the danger posed by artificial intelligence and 'smart machines'. There is some technology, they tell us, that we should make a conscious decision not to advance.

Since we can't close the lid on this particular 'Pandora's box', maybe we can at least slow down the process; enough, perhaps, that the public might have time to consider the potential consequences. This too will be a matter of choice, so let us look 'back to the future' (as they say) and revisit the world that advocates of technology then, suggested we'd all be enjoying by now.

The 1950s Jetson future, sadly, seems no closer; even the dream of a two day work week – which wasn't too much to ask, given all the efficiencies technology promised – seems even farther away now than the hover car. And (even more annoying) I still don't own a vacuum cleaner that will vacuum by itself.

Increasingly, technology offers solutions to problems the last wave of technology caused, as the race to maintain an edge gets even more intense. This was the basis of Alvin Toffler's 1970 work, Future Shock, which said that the human mind was incapable of adapting quickly enough to new technologies, and that the rate of change would only increase. It isn't just a case of keeping up, of course, because adapting is not the same as understanding; the unseen consequences are not immediately obvious to anyone – except, perhaps, those who developed the technology and thought through all of the possible consequences years in advance. Senator Frank Church's Comments on NBC in 1975, in the wake of the Church Commission, might well be revisited again today, in this age of social media.

In a world that enthusiastically embraces every new gadget to come along, it seems more important than ever that someone continues to ask questions; this has always been the role of the Regionalist artist. It may be for this very reason that virtually no one knows anything of the world's most influential and long-lived art movement; in a world conditioned to look for a technological solution to every problem, the notion that technology might be the main source of many of society's problems, is not going to be popular - particularly as the media itself is dependent on technology. 'The medium,' as Marshall McLuhan told (warned) us 'is the message'.

So don't shoot the messenger who brings – not bad news, necessarily, but – news that contradicts almost everything we hear, all day, everyday, everywhere. Who else but artists, after all, would dare take such a position? It was artists (though this historical detail is not widely known) who questioned technology in the past, then found ways for people to resist the power that inevitably shifted to those who controlled the new technologies.

The inexorable drift toward a global technocracy was predicted, and described in detail, a long time ago; almost 100 years ago now. Although technology is a word that generally evokes positive emotions, most people are rather more ambivalent about the notion of technocracy; and for good reason. Technocracy, first of all, is not democratic. Dependence on technology is dependence on those who own, control and administer that technology. As Theodor Adorno, Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays, Marshall McLuhan and many, many others, describe how populations are 'managed' invisibly by cultural means (Adorno's 'Culture And Administration' is a case in point); populations are similarly managed, of course, by technology. The concerns that surrounded the idea of technocracy, when the idea emerged in the 1920s and 30s (at the time of the American Regionalists), are more relevant now than ever before, because this 'state' is no longer just theoretical.

Artists are more wary than most of the claims made by proponents of technology – just as they are of the processes and systems insisted upon by bureaucrats and officials of any kind – the cold rationality of systems mirror the left-brain's perspective on (and approach to) the world, and this is not the artist's vision of the world. Reason, the right-brain counterpart to rationality (a distinction not made by the left), incorporates a larger context – the gestalt – and understands that systems all too easily become a box for our minds, limiting our thoughts and restricting possibilities. For artists, in particular, this is a guiding principle. As Bertrand Russell warns in his unsettling, 1952 work, The Impact Of Science On Society:

'[artists and writers] must not be systematized or controlled. Some part of life—perhaps the most important part—must be left to the spontaneous action of individual impulse, for where all is system there will be mental and spiritual death.'

The idea that technology will solve all of the world's problems seems ludicrous; it is a leap of faith the right-brain is not prepared to make. There are consequences to everything and, as the opening comment suggests, the more tasks we hand off to technology, the more incapable we become of performing those tasks ourselves and the more dependent we become on this technology.

It takes a while before we notice these effects, but as technology becomes more entrenched, even some of the most enthusiastic 'users' are beginning to ask questions. The electronic environment, as described by Marshal McLuhan, is another aspect of the 'invisible environment'. With technology, in particular, we experience the surface 'effects' only - the 'interface' - the immediate convenience and short-term benefits, the novelty and the 'cool factor'; the long-term effects, however, are rather less discernible. McLuhan's pronouncement that the young have a natural acumen for technology, was an encouragement, as was his disarming, feel-good 'global village' allusion. This is perhaps the most likely explanation for McLuhan's popularity (this and the fact there are many amusing pictures, and in some cases, only one word to a page. But McLuhan was making a point: in post-literate society, it isn't that people cannot read, it is that the won't. In such a society, as in the dark ages (where most people could not read at all) ideas are communicated by images and symbols. Thus, the dark undercurrent in McLuhan's work is overlooked. As images and simple, upbeat catchphrases (words that are registered as images) lodge in the mind, the more obscure and challenging ideas are forgotten. Similarly, the sceptical assessments of other postmodern commentators are largely dismissed, and quickly erased from the collective consciousness – even if these authors are far more qualified to 'catalogue the effects' of culture and technology on society.

Bertrand Russell's controversial 1952 work, The Impact Of Science On Society, is largely unknown (ignored, forgotten or suppressed). Even Senator Frank Church's dire public warning, in 1975, has been brushed aside and is rarely ever mentioned today – even as the privacy debate continues.

This is a topic for another time – interesting commentary can be heard in podcasts on the Centre for Free Expression's web site. Among the more pertinent are:

  Should charities have the same free expression rights as corporations?
  2   Is This the End of the Web as We Know It? How Facebook and Other Large
      Companies are Closing the Open Web

Returning to the Regional perspective, it is helpful to recall the opening lines the Nihilist Spasm Band's 'Nihilist Party Light', from the No Borders: Stage recording:

"...and when the recording studios are silent, vacant relics of the past, they [those who had not completely embraced technology]will still be here"... making music – 'singing, and dancing, and celebrating life'.

Regionalists operate on the assumption, and certainly in this case, that the technology of our day may not always be around. This is not pessimism necessarily; rather, it is a statement about humanity, and the timeless ideas embodied in art, which will still have to be communicated, even if the media of the day (the current technology) is no longer viable. What would happen to video art if the media carrying it became obsolete, or the systems that support the current technology are compromised? If the power goes out, the recording studios will fall silent. But musicians with acoustical instruments, in actual communities, will still make music.

Art should transcend the particular circumstances, and fashions, of the day – just as regional art (since it deals with universal ideas) will transcend the confines of a given location – bringing a rich (and essential) diversity to the overall cultural landscape. Social theorists have a much darker take on all of this. No art that is dependent on technology, can question that technology; it would undermine its own legitimacy, and threaten its own existence, by doing this. Art that does not transcend the centralization and systematization of institutional art, as Theodor Adorno writes in The Culture Industry, becomes, in effect, 'a massive bureau of information', which supports and perpetuates not only the new technology, but the ideas of the current regime. Art that is dependent on a system - any system - serves the interests of this system.

Continue reading on the next page, where, as the saying goes, we see how deep the rabbit hole goes: Low-tech (part 2)

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