"How to be Oppressed by a Thermostat" and Other Future Events

Today marks the last day that the city of Las Vegas hosts the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, probably the most significant display of gadgetry under one roof anywhere in the world. Among the starts of the show was the Nest Learning Thermostat, which records the times and temperatures set by the user over time to generate an automatic schedule of adjustments to the temperature of one’s heaters or air conditioners, ostensibly to save energy.
In Christ and Pop Culture, Erin Straza wrote about Nest prior to its showing at the CES. According to Straza, Nest is a celebration of human ingenuity, conceptually combining the Ipod and humble thermostat. Straza finds in Nest an occasion to praise God who endowed upon humanity the gift of creativity.
Straza makes a valid point, and the makers of Nest may very well be right in claiming that a self-governing thermostat could cut household energy costs. Both of these are justifiably commendable observations. Be that as it may, one theme that often needs reiterating is that, to echo Marshall McLuhan (who coined the phrase “the medium is the message”), the increasing ceding of human actions to a whole array of gadgets and software creates a situation that decreases human agency. In other words, humans cede so much of their lives to machinery as to become not only dependent on them, but even conform their organic lives to the requirements set by the machinery.
If this does not demonstrate Friedrich Nietzsche’s  (d. 1900) comment of an impending age where humans “refrain from all organic functions“, James KA Smith of Fors Clavigera has alerted readers to the arrival of a means to forestall the doomsday scenario of complete and utter dependence on computers and software, thanks to a new piece of computer software called “Freedom” which locks users out of their computers for up to 8 hours at a stretch. Such developments raise the question of whether Martin Heidegger was right in calling humanity a “standing-reserve” for technology.
As a related footnote, readers from Sydney may be interested to know that on Saturday (14th January 2011), Campion College will field Matthew Tan to present on youth identity and cyberculture at an upcoming conference on Youth and Culture, as well as Campion’s President David Daintree, who will present on the crisis of education. Other speakers include Bernard Toutounji, who writes in Foolish Wisdom, and Andrew Mullins of Wollemi College.

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