Are You A Computer Toy?


I recently lost a dear little friend to a computer toy. Since my future is rapidly becoming nil, children are my hope and joy, wherefore I am sorely grieved by the loss of my young friend, Kristen.

Kristen used to be glad to see me. She would run up and give me a hug, sit on my lap, ask me questions and tell me what she thought of life's big surprises such as losing her front teeth. I would tell her a fantastic story or two, hand her an unusual book, show her how to draw things like a star made out of two triangles, and so on. I was more than amply rewarded by her eager enthusiasm and delightful smiles. But now she has the most popular electronic toy. The last few times I saw her, I no longer existed as far as she was concerned. I had been replaced by a computer toy.

People tried to console me. I was told children soon tire of such things, that our friendship would be restored. Alas, such has not been the case. Kristen has gone on to upgraded things, and I've been left behind in the dust. The friendship just did not have enough time to be firmly established in an eager wandering mind.

Nonetheless, the generation gap is being narrowed by our computer toys. It seems attention spans in sexually mature adults are getting shorter and shorter as we play with computers. The computer toy itself gets our undivided attention: we cannot stop playing with it. Yet within the virtual world of play, which is a sort of constantly expanding, untethered balloon-world, we cannot wait to click on something else lest we miss something. Therefore we miss the ark that might carry us over the digital flood to solid personal real estate.

We are being wired together while we are being torn apart. Our compulsive participation in the digital community is resulting in diminished direct personal relations with other human beings, thus the human race is being dehumanized. A human being is a unique relation of mind and body; we are becoming so obsessed with unrestricted mental operations that we cannot stand any enduring relation with a real live tasty, touchy, smelly person. Some best friends on the telephone cannot stand each other in person; but now the computer even adds the advantage of getting rid of provocative vocals. The relationship becomes ever more abstract and irresponsible. The Internet serves as a gigantic wall or purdah secluding the harem, with each concubine behind it covered from head to toe by a bourka. She believes her concealment protects her from being treated like an object, that now she will be addressed equally as an equal person, not understanding that in the absence of perceived differences, which require objects, her equality is vain nothingness. She is no longer a nymph but a paranoid Narcissa peering into the Pool.

Despite the danger of doing so, we encounter people on the Net and meet them personally. Business associations, friendships and even marriages have been the happy result. Yet, in the latter case, I opine for every mate found on the Internet, most likely two are lost. I know of several divorces filed by Internet widowers. In the old days, a sweetheart used to come to bed after the Johnny Carson Show, but now she is chatting or posting recipes, poems and stories on the Web long after her mate has fallen asleep with his shrunken expectation in hand.

Mind you, the Internet does have its social advantages, especially for those who are home alone. Virtual relationships certainly beat no relationships at all and are certainly better than one-way television. And even bad behavior can be a positive experience:  there is nothing like a flaming episode to brighten up a boring day or to vent frustrations. Even an innocuous remark is enough to light the fire - surely someone will fan it. We cannot live without our emotions, and in this new jungle we can run wild with impunity. Surely that beats shooting up the office or factory.

Gossip also runs rampant on the Web. Sociologists tell us gossip is not such a bad practice as those of us who have been subject to the malicious kind might believe. But be careful: it is impossible to deny what you said about Jenkoplitz when your email is being forwarded all over the world and posted in forums to demonstrate what a callous fool you are. Incidentally, I suppose the Internet is not to blame for the nastiness - not really. Like strong wine, it may simply bring out a person's true character, often under cover of a disinhibiting virtual identity. Maybe that is therapeutic, but I think the damage to others might outweigh the selfish benefit. There is no limit to the harm that can be done behind a virtual bourka, whereas, if someone starts beating up people in the real world to relieve himself of his prehistoric emotional burdens, he might meet with some healthy resistance, even a war on terror.

The foregoing is merely a prelude to my pet Internet peeve. The aspect of the technological world that irks me the most is the dumb tyranny of its owners and engineers. I say "dumb" because I do not believe there is a conspiracy or plot amongst the once notorious power elite to kick the masses around like footballs. The illustrious culprits are merely cogs in the machine too, albeit governing mechanisms. The corporate executives, for instance, are rationalized rationalizers, intentionally divorced from emotion - a president of a corporation who has a Harvard MBA turned to me one day and said, "We executives must not be emotional in business", to which I replied, "Then you would have no moral values."

But allow me to briefly explain what I mean by rational; or rather allow Karl Mannheim to explain the difference between functional rationality and substantial rationality. My own opinion on the subject was not influenced by but was confirmed by him. I happened to open up his book Man And Society yesterday to page 58 of the 1940 Harcourt, Brace edition, from which I quote:

"...the source of functional rationalization... springs from industrialization... the organization of the activities of members of society with reference to objective ends. It does not to the same extent promote 'substantial rationality,' i.e., the capacity to act intelligently in a given situation on the basis of one's own insight into the interpretation of events. Whoever predicted that the further industrialization of society would raise the average capacity for independent judgment must have learned his mistake from the events of the past few years. The violent shocks of crises and revolutions have uncovered a tendency... namely the paralyzing effect of functional rationalization on the capacity of rational judgment.. functional rationalization is, in its very nature, bound to deprive the average individual of thought, insight, and responsibility and to transfer these capacities to the individual who direct the process of rationalization."

An example of my pet peeve is in order here. I don't know about you, but I resent having so-called upgrades shoved down my throat. All too often the upgrade is really a nuisance to figure out, and for no real gain; even worse, it is frequently a downgrade.

How many times have you been asked what sort of change you want? I have been asked only once, and when I recently spoke up and offered the suggestion that users decide what changes are to be made, I was told business is not a democracy:

Dear Website Executive

I received your Release advising providers that you will only appreciate "constructive suggestions" instead of the complaints you are getting from your "partners" - who must actually be independent contractors or employees since you have fired some for complaining. I submit the following Constructive Suggestion for your consideration.

CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTION: I suggest all changes to the general web site structure and to the marketing strategies be voted on and approved by a majority of the stakeholders before being implemented.That would be the democractic way.

DISCUSSION: I noticed the comment in Website's most recent release that it has considered and will implement its stakeholders' suggestions. Regardless of the source of the changes, although I have on one occasion been asked to comment, I have never been asked to vote on their implementation. Rather, every change so far has been on a "take it or leave it" basis. And I have noticed that objections to the changes seem to be resented as destructive or negative. Continuous change in itself is not "continuous improvement." So far, Website's "upgrades" have only effected me personally in this downgraded way:

I have been unable to use my site for weeks because of a technical problem ("issue") you have yet to solve.

Standing By,

Content Provider

Dear Content Provider

Firstly, democracy in business doesn't work. We don't have a take it or leave it attitude. Usually we come up with ideas and float them out in Website either to see what kind of response we get. If no rational arguments appear, we will go with our original plan, but since better ideas are often generated, we will adopt those instead.

Thanks for the input, and keep it coming,

Website Executive

Dear Website Executive:

Thank you for your response. I am glad you do not resent my constructive suggestion. Other than the most current  "issue", I do not recall being asked if I wanted any particular change. I have always been advised of the change after the fact. I may have missed other notices, but I don't think so. I certainly would not miss a ballot with the suggested change on it.

I hope you will reconsider my constructive suggestion after examining the following:

I am surprised you dismissed democracy in business, especially after making the following advertisement on the header of your home page, apparently from one of your content providers. These sort of remarks, as you must know, are frequently made during times of site disasters by people who habitually curry favor or sympathize with those who are getting flak because of their mistakes:

"I've always felt that content providers (writers) at  Website  were treated with respect and were included in decision making..." (Mary Provider) "That is absolutely true -- and it's a founding principle of our operations." (Website Executive)

Why is she making that statement about decision making? I suspect many people have said otherwise. I recall your recent notification to all content providers that complainers have been kicked off the site for their complaints, and that only "constructive suggestions" will be appreciated - which caused me to draft my Constructive Suggestion

A democratic method for "inclusion in decision making" would work very well in these matters. These sort of problematic "issues" are matters of taste, not reason. Simply because one stakeholder can rationalize her desire and better than another is irrelevant. What is objectively rational is the majority will of the stakeholders, against which only the arrogant will protest - reasonable people opposed will accept the decision.

Furthermore, as for the proposition that democracy does not work in business, if that is the case, then our government will not work since democracy is allegedly its business and business virtually owns the


I hope you will reconsider my suggestion to democratize the decision making regarding these sort of changes - that would not only be, in my opinion, the right and rational thing for a business man to do, but also the patriotic thing for a citizen to do.


Content Provider

Dear Content Providers:


Thank you all for your constructive feedback, and we are very much looking forward to focusing again on tools and utilities that help you create content and interact with your readers. We remain steadfast on our original mission for Website: to create a content network that empowers people to pursue their passions and reach out to the world.

One thing for sure: we have decided that we're only going to work with folks who share a sense of optimism and who can work with us in a professional manner. In other words, we're booting a small number of writers from the network who just can't be pleased no matter what we do. For everyone else, welcome to our Website 2002!

Therefore, Happy New Year! That Holiday Greeting follows similar positive-attitude statements throughout the year. It constitutes a gratuitous threat. The "members" have long been apprised of the widespread neo-liberal corporate position on the old master-servant relationship and the modern employee-at-will economics of 'You're fired.' Obviously, the corporate executives fear further revolt; they betray themselves: if there were only a couple of rebels, such redundant releases to thousands of their members would be superfluous if not  insulting.

So much for the extolled new freedoms of the Information Age. So much for the participatory democracy made possible by the new technology. So much for the rhetoric about the consumer-driven economy. So much for the ultimate distribution of power with Bacon's famous premise in mind: "Knowledge is power." Power indeed! That is, if you are Lord High Chancellor or any other lord. Well, it was all hype I guess;  but we should get back to it and do something about it before it is too late for us and our progeny.

Pet peeves are made to be harped on, so I continue....

No, we are seldom asked what sort of system or innovations we might want, or whether or not we are in favor of someone else's idea of continuous innovation. What we are asked to do is to "adjust" and to "adapt" to the power elite's wishes, for as we know from our demented neoteric philosophy, our survival depends on our flexible ability to serve our masters. Their upgraded (LOL) System is foisted on us from the top down by technocrats whose dogma is insipid game theory, information design theory, mind-toggling neural network theory and the like. According to their rational expectations hypothesis, we are expected to conform to their tedious tendentious plan as we become plastic welcome mats for their changes. And neither do the postmodern merging corporatists bother to knock: they are right in your face when you turn on the System you supposedly cannot live without.

The more we are sucked into the vortex of the Internetted world - the more we play with our toy Typhon monster with its hurricane of burning heads and writhing limbs - the more we become fashioned in our Toymaster's projected image. We are being replaced by computer toys unto the point where we are the computer toys. As we are toyed around with, we are told not to be afraid of the Toymaster's changes. Propaganda advises us to embrace and welcome the Toymaster's change, to go with the flow of the Tao he has benevolently provided for us. The cheaply replicated, ambiguous rhetoric persuades us that the changes converting us into computer toys are our own changes.

In other words, man as such is being abolished. We are still on the same page as C.S. Lewis:

"Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.... Each generation exercises its power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modified the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors.... All men who live after it are patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger.... The later a generation comes - the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct.... The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men the most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exert least power upon the future....Man's conquest of Nature... means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions... Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.... Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.... For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means... the power of some men to make other men what they please.... The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race.... But I am not supposing them to be bad men... but not men at all... 'Good' and 'bad', applied to them, are words without content.... Their duty? But that is only the Tao, which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it , then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened.... Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all; they are artefacts. Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man." (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)

Mr. Lewis goes on to warn us that the few men in control, not being subject to the Tao they impose, are subject only to their own reptilian impulses; therefore, for all their functional rationality, they are slaves to their irrational drives and arbitrary whims.

I should know. If I  had your attention in the beginning, you will recall my consternation when I lost my young friend Kristen to a computer toy. I complained that our relation to the computer impoverishes our relations with real live people who have sensitive bodies that express emotions. There is little fundamental difference between Kristen and me except that I am much more obsessed with the toy; for, as must be obvious from this monologue, I have been fervently playing with it at length. In fact, so immersed am I in the World Wide Web, the vast ocean into which my trickling faintly tinkles, that I am divorced entirely from any personal contact with friends and family, and my physical health is going to ruin. Ironically, I was once a "dumb" dancer who hardly read and who abjured any technology standing between body and spirit.

And what sucked me into the ultimate abstraction? My vanity of course, and a severe case of it at that. When I was a boy sent to my room to sulk, I fancied myself as the greatest author the word will ever or never know. Therefore, rather than suffer the same regrets as my poetic father who gave up literature to provide us with electricity, I let dancing slide five years ago and took up reading and writing. Now the Internet has provided me with an unlimited opportunity to exercise my vanity free of cost and free from editorial restraints. Can you blame me for going hog wild? Perhaps not: not if you were a writer and had received hundreds of rejection slips but still remained convinced of the grandeur of your insignificance. Mind you, I did have the honor of receiving a few personal notes from editors such as:

"I understand you, but your work is over my readers' heads. I would welcome something from you if it were very simply stated."

"I have examined several of your submissions. Your writing is pointless. Please do not bother submitting anything further unless it gets quickly to a point and repeats it so the intelligent reader will understand it."

"Your extended brief on anarchy is wonderful. You are a gifted writer. However, my son has taken over the publication and he has changed the format to coincide with today's trend. He is looking for fact-filled articles of 500 words or less in plain language. Good luck to you. I am sure you will place your brilliant essay


My few virtual friends - whom I am too busy to meet in reality because of the anti-gravity of my pressing "issues" - do provide me with encouragement; for that I am glad. In any event, I deeply resent any negative criticism whatsoever even when given under cover of "constructive" criticism; and there you have it for the sake of balanced reporting: my confession of hypocrisy as a frustrated elitist - beware of romantic artists who would run the world. Perhaps I should be a corporate executive and do something "constructive", yet I would not wither under the florescent lighting, at least not on a full-time basis. I know myself: I am vain and this is my vanity speaking. It may not be worth fragrant flatulence in reality, but this masterpiece will get 50 clicks in virtuality. And if virtuality reality finally fails me, my retirement plan provides a two-week Leaving Las Vegas economy package to bring my life to a happy conclusion.

I mention my own case as a glaring case on point. I am becoming a computer toy. I do not play with the computer, it plays me, and I cannot put it down.

What are the alternatives? We had better find and implement them soon. And that is becoming increasingly difficult: our lives and the lives of those who will inherit our current technological decisions depend on our obedience to the dictates of those who manipulate the technological apparatus. Those who own and operate the System swear that to just turn the System off would have catastrophic consequences. Well, if that is true, instead of the System being used by the few to change us, we must change the System. That can be done with the technological power we do have. But at present that power is potential: force must be brought to bear on the System.

Quixotic as my narcissistic tilting with the windmill may seem, that is what I have endeavored to do: to change the System. Yet I am about to reach for the switch because the System does not sustain me as a human being. At least I can have the independent dignity of turning myself off before I am turned off. Not only have I been replaced by a computer toy, I am becoming a computer toy.


Author's Notes/Comments: 

Are you being toyed with by network managers?

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