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Thanks to Alan Jacobs , I have read the latest excerpt from The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs . “I will restore your sense of childlike wonder,” he vows. “There is nothing you can do to stop me.” Hold that thought. The excerpt in question reads thus:

Did you know that now, thanks to iPhone, you can use location services to tell your friends where are you are at any given moment, and if they’re on iPhone and have that same app they can find you, and then you can then ask iPhone to tell you if there are any Tex-Mex restaurants within a five-block radius, and what movies are playing at the nearest cinema? Then you can use Twitter (or, rather, one of the 14,000 Twitter apps) to tell your followers what you’re up to, and automatically feed that into your Facebook page so that your Facebook friends can comment on your movie plans, and advertisers can scour your personal messages and use keyword searches to send target messages to each of you, and deep thinkers like Robert Scoble and Chris Anderson will reassure you that you are not just getting sucked into the maw of the brain-killing machine, and this is not just mindless time-wasting twattle but is in fact extremely profound and revolutionary and important and intellectually challenging. Because in the old days you just read books and that was so passive, but now you’re so engaged and interactive , you’re not just a media consumer but you’re also a media creator — why, in fact, you’re a public intellectual — and if you don’t fully immerse yourself in every last bit of this shit then you will no longer be participating in your culture which means you will lose your job and everyone will laugh at you because you just don’t get it and you might as well be some 90-year-old dude sitting in a pee-stained bathrobe drooling.

Well, guilty as charged, right, although remember, History, that I don’t have an iPhone . . . and anyway, this post concerns the awkward, ambivalent, ambiguous, and ultimately perhaps even “love-hate” relationship between youth and technology — a circumstance which, we ought to recognize, puts some interesting cracks in that supposedly inexorable historical Wall of Sound called modernity. Fake Steve Jobs revealingly revels in the coercive aging powers of technology. Anyone who is not hip to the trip is, as we have been trained to recognize, in immediate danger of being deemed — and not only deemed! — obsolete. Uncannily, the antiseptic and user-friendly apparatus contrasts with the woeful state of those who reject or cannot keep up with it. In a lurid horrorshow of the flesh, the irrelevant old are physically revolting and stripped of dignity: what Freud called “dreck” and what the Nazis called “pieces”. But Freud, of course, goes to show that the shrieking mockery of the old as irrelevant reveals what it conceals. How very relevant these nightmarish elders really are. (I cannot help but think in this instant of Real Steve Jobs, hardly able to keep himself young and indeed hardly interested, his more moderate ambitions limited to mere survival. Yet even mere survival, in Jobs’ ironic case, requires celebrity, wealth, and a giant leap for man over the organ-donor cue into the possession of one small liver.)

Yet Fake Steve Jobs, with a telling residue of his own dignity, represses the profane proverbial vision of the contemptible aged stewing helplessly in their own feces. Halfhearted even still in his technologically-inspired transgressions against the flesh, he dresses the archetypical old man in merely urine-soaked garb. (Just as technology can complete no transgression without the complicity of our will, so Fake Steve Jobs only points us suggestively toward the ultimate in fear, loathing, and disgrace. Our goaded imaginations must connect the dots. Borges, in his discussion of the last circle of Dante’s Hell, has ably described this dramatic virtue of only half-revealing vices, sins, and horrors.) Recall, however, that Fake Steve Jobs has no compulsive compunctions about throwing the s-word around. Incredibly, paradoxically, monstrously, it is the young who must “fully immerse” themselves in “every last bit of this shit,” on pains of being fully alienated from their culture, their economy, their society, and even their cherished custom circles of friends and family. Yes, even Tocqueville’s Manchild of the Future, safe in the two-ply softness of universal despotisms and particular freedoms, has no last line of defense against this kind of technological harrowing. Tocqueville’s uncanny vision of a ‘good’ bad modernity is that of a closed, comprehensive system, depressingly bereft of internal contradictions: the omnicompetent, omnipresent One rules all-too-compatibly over the All in their endless, and endlessly superficial, variations. Fake Steve Jobs gives us a vision of modernity in which the system of order can never be closed and never attain comprehensiveness — one that always ‘bleeds’, so to speak, at its moving horizons. The longing for eternal youth crashes eternally against the longing for eternal life ; technology crystallizes the irresolvable natural war between the incarnate spirits of novelty and durability. In this respect, technology itself carries an internal contradiction. But that contradiction is established by the competing longings of the soul or psyche’s oscillating movement in time. It is as if there is no logic of science or money that is not always already an import from the time-bound condition of us in our human being . . . .

Thus the question put to Tocquevile’s dystopia is whether the irrepressible love-hate relationship between youth and technology makes life more irrepressibly beastly than Tocqueville imagined, or cared to imagine. Ultimately, Tocqueville’s challenge to Hobbes, on which the jury is still out, was to suggest that the age of the individual could only proceed as a democratic age; but Tocqueville’s soft depotism and Hobbes’ Leviathan look, in their virtues and their vices, uncannily similar. Both Tocqueville and Hobbes give us visions — one sad, one glad — of a kind of regime that emerges characteristically from a world of individuals. Yet neither Tocqueville nor Hobbes force us to consider squarely enough what beastliness looks like in the society managed by such a regime. The absentee citizens ruled by Tocquevillian and Hobbesian despots, in other words, don’t care as much about the nagging tension between the experience of novelty and the experience of durability as we would expect real people to care. The despotic regimes on offer seem implausibly to guarantee a way of life in which the stakes captured in the inherent tension of our souls’ movements in time have been drastically lowered. Nietzsche feared that such a great lowering was not only possible but triumphant. But Nietzsche’s searing attacks on the blinking burgher are less important today than his uncomfortable comments on brief habits, histrionic Greeks, and wooden iron — remarks which point us suggestively toward a deeper, and less easily caricatured, fear . . . one which brings me back around, in fact, to the now not-so-silly threat with which we began.

More on: Culture, Pop, Science, Theory

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