Will Self, Cyborg Cockroaches and Democracy

Will Self

Will Self

On Friday night I went to a talk by Will Self at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College arranged by the excellent City Books on Western Road. I had taken the day off work as I had man flu.  I still felt feverish while listening to Mr. Self discuss his new novel Umbrella. He read a passage and it seemed quite a dense stream of consciousness type of work written, as he said, in the continuous present. He talked before and after and took questions. He was good value. Alternately, irreverent, serious and amusing.

My mind has been slightly addled the last few days and I’m not sure where some ideas came from but I think it was he who described technology as a parasite on humanity. This tied in with the ideas of a friend who suggested that we are now so reliant on technology that we are becoming cyborgs without a physical interface.

Today, I read in The Economist that Alper Bozkurt and Tahmid Latif of North Carolina University are experimenting with cyborg parasites which can be used to help in search and rescue operations. A cockroach is fitted out with a little circuit board allowing remote control guidance. The circuit board also carries a microphone and camera.

Obviously this could be very useful in search and rescue…….or spying. I’m sure that police, intelligence services, military and the corporates will all be keeping a keen eye on this type of work. If it turns out to be practical, we will, no doubt, see these things crawling all over the walls of Embassies, foreign military installations and our own homes.

The increasing speed of technological advance is amazing but I sometimes wonder about the consequences. I think it’s generally accepted that Capitalism is better than Socialism at promoting invention and innovation. The key to this is probably the concept of limited liability which has enabled much of the western world’s success.

But the downside of this success has been the growth of massive unaccountable multinational corporations. It’s interesting that Western Multinationals are unaccountable but Chinese corporates are often owned by Sovereign Wealth Funds making them accountable to the Chinese government but I don’t want to get into a discussion on the merits of State Capitalism.

So far, we seem to have decided that the innovation and the standard of living which it has achieved is worth the rise of mega corporations but I wonder if this will always be true. More and more it seems that we get more stuff at the expense of our liberty.

We now have fantastic cars, amazing hand held computers, flat screen TVs and all the other stuff but very little time to enjoy it. I remembering reading a comment somewhere that most basements of middle class Americans have unused aqualungs or sky diving gear and Britain is heading that way.

Sure there are some great technologies on the horizon but are these future wonders worth the loss of control of our governments to corporate lobby groups? Is yet more innovation worth the steady privatisation of commercialisation or public space?

What do we value more: Bigger TV screens, the platooning of our cars, cyborg cockroaches or democracy?

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

Buy Art Photography by Nigel Chaloner

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