43 / Aliens Exist

1-2-3 Tech Miscellany

Hi, I’m Scott Bryan. Welcome to 1-2-3 Tech Miscellany, a weekly newsletter about ethics in tech. Each week, I’ll introduce you to 1 ethical dilemma, 2 good news stories and 3 random quotes, photos or other oddities. If you’re not subscribed already, you can do so below.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Part 1 - Ethical Dilemma

Does It Really Matter What We Do?

A mangled, wire coat hangar is jammed into the back of my svelt 42” HDTV. It works, but makes the signal glitchy. 

The storm killed the internet so I'm channel hopping. Worse yet, there's only four stations.

Flick, flick, flick, flick, repeat.

Mind-numbing. Depressing. Dreadful. News.

But I can cope. Eventually, persistence pays off.

I'm rewarded with the darkly comic, Mars Attacks! — Tim Burton’s mediocre, 1996 B-movie pastiche.

Ad break.

I interrupt my half-assed screen stare to look down. Resting hopefully on my my lap, is a book about Existentialism.

A momentary pause, furrowed brow and it dawns on me — A coincidence so unlikely, if it doesn't have you googling the word mysticism for answers, you must be hexed. 

Existentialism spells ‘aliens exist Tim.'

What else, I wondered, had a philosophy for turtle-neck wearing proto-punks, with a drowning victim aesthetic, got in common with a twenty-something year old, alien invasion spoof?

A lot, apparently!

Mars Attacks! is a cautionary tale about gullibility. The humans die en masse because they persist in trusting Martians when they really, absolutely shouldn’t.

My pathetic telly addiction is a cautionary tale about gullibility too. I really, absolutely shouldn’t blindly trust a screen to inoculate me from the horrors of the big bad world. It could be the death of me too:

Albert Camus saw humanity as being confronted by a choice between collective suicide or learning to use technology more intelligently – “between hell and reason,” he said.

A Desperate Introduction

Existentialism offers profound insight into how to cope with the maladies of 21st century living.

It starts by tackling the biggest question of all — freedom.

In the face of a world without meaning, beyond that which we give to it, existentialism challenges us to live life with passion, sincerity and courage. Because, even though it might not always seem like it, these are all within our control.

Unlike say, a rock, giraffe, or kumquat, humans differ from all other beings. We can choose what to do. They can’t. In fact, we must choose!

This is the case in spite of biology, culture and upbringing.  As Sartre put it: “There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path. But, to invent it, he is free, responsible, without excuse, and every hope lies within him.” 

This freedom is exhilarating, but terrifying. Especially in a world gone mad. Many feel they’ve no control — that it’s hard to make a difference on this crazy, crowded planet.

This mindset gets us off the hook. So we escape. We busy ourselves. We find comfort in the telly or in our infinite news feeds — switching on to switch off.

But Hannah Arendt cautions against the dangers of seeking solace in comfort. She says it blinds us to the world in front of us and the power we have to influence it. She asks us to stop and think, to recognise our actions can, in fact, affect positive change — “the activity of thinking could make men abstain from evil-doing.”

During it’s mid 20th century heyday, the existentialists did just that. They were responsible for major social change: inspiring Martin Luther King Jnr — womens’ rights, gay rights, workers’ and student movements too.

Existentialist writers tackled questions about nuclear war, the environment, violence and living in dangerous times. They wrote about the anxiety that comes with living with such gargantuan issues. They concerned themselves with suffering, inequality and exploitation.

But today, somehow, it’s fallen out of fashion. 

Maybe it's time to bring it back?

For Flux Sake

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a pandemic. The climate crisis, fake news and the rise of authoritarianism have us addled too. They’ve created what Elif Shafak calls “a crisis of meaning.”

What is democracy? What is true? What is normal for fuck’s sake? We assumed we had all the answers to these basic questions, but now, “with a half destroyed dictionary in one hand, we need to sit down and rethink the entries.”

We’re surveilled and managed, farmed for our personal data and fed consumer goods, but discouraged from speaking our minds or doing anything too disruptive in the world. These beg the question, what does freedom even mean anymore?

The existentialists have an answer.

Authenticity Rules, OK!

Live an “authentic life” they’d say. Get out into the world and make a difference. Be “engaged” and “committed."

The reason it’s hard and sometimes despairing, Sartre would say, is because what you do in the world really matters. And deep down, we know it. He urges us to make choices as if the whole of humankind depends on it.

Existentialism doesn’t promise an easy ride because it’s not. Take it from me - the channel hopping, procrastinator! I’ve even tried reading the existentialists and that’s no mean feat.

Read Sartre on Freedom, Beauvoir on oppression, Kierkegaard on anxiety, Camus on rebellion, and Heidegger on technology. There are others but I speak from limited experience.

Their philosophies are fascinating, not because they are right or wrong, but because they seem to relate so profoundly to today’s lived experience. Their ideas suggest, maybe existentialism can provide that much-needed spark to the imagination — helping those who want to struggle for a different kind of future.

The credits roll on Mars Attacks! Against the odds, the humans win out in the end.

Existentialism promises similar. Whether the threat is alien or something more terrestrial, Kierkegaard insists we simply care — “No matter how hopeless you might feel, you still have a responsibility to reach through the pain and to care for and about others, even if you find it hard to care about yourself.”


Part 2 - Good News

She’s Got Game

Felwa, Tasnim, and Najla were nervous. No one had shown up yet.

Their sign at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh read G-Con — or جي كون to be precise.

The event was radical. They'd organised the kingdom’s first-ever gaming convention for women. Abayas and head scarves. Tekken and Tombraider. An unlikely blend, you’d think. But growing up in Saudi Arabia, Felwa insisted, gaming from their home was all they had.

As the severe grip on womens’ freedoms loosened, slowly — the college juniors moved quickly, pulling everything together in months.

On the day though, they fretted. Would any women turn up?

Read more on Rest of world.

Raised By Narcissists

Over 600K young Redditors are finding comfort and support on Reddit forums dedicated to outing toxic parenting styles.

Subreddits such as r/insaneparents, r/raisedbynarcissists, and r/narcissisticparents, see millions of users swap stories, seek advice and share resources to help protect themselves from their overbearing parents. 

Read more on New Statesman


Part 3 - Quotes, Tweets And Other Oddities

  1. Mother Earth is trolling us

  1. Disaster tools

    Source: Chris Dancy

  2. “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”

    Adrienne Maree Brown

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