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5 Ways Techno-Gadgetry Is Bringing Out the Worst in Humanity

Everything from handy gadgets like cell phones and iPods to user-friendly weaponry like Tasers have changed the way we work, play and police.

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The idea that a patently invasive stop-light camera is incentivizing transgression is bad enough on the surface. It's worsened by the fact that some states allow its snapshot to be obtainable under Freedom of Information Act requests, so that literally anyone can have access to the event. Like its birth, the techno-blowback on this has become political and financial: Washington state representative Chris Hurst, a law enforcement veteran, sponsored a bill decreasing fines from nearly $125 to $25, and more importantly demanded that yellow lights last at least four seconds, rather than the scant two they've been reduced to in search of lethal regional profit.

"Now they're actually killing their citizens to make money off these things," he told the Seattle Times in January.

That's the overall plan of surveillance technology, Alan Moore, famed author of dystopian comic classics like Watchmen and V For Vendetta, told me in a 2004 interview. " V for Vendetta has had an annoying way of coming true ever since I wrote it in the early '80s. Back then, I wanted something to communicate the idea of a police state quickly and efficiently, so I thought of the novel fascist idea of monitor cameras on every street corner." Before long, Britain and America, Moore said, "had cameras on every street corner along the length and breadth of the country."

That impulse toward "invisible omniscience" dates back to Jeremy Bentham's infamous panopticon, a specially designed prison in which all prisoners were monitored simultaneously, without their knowledge. The result, Bentham explained, was not just invisible omniscience but also a "mode of obtaining power of mind over mind."

We have since upgraded Bentham's panopticon for everything from our rampantly escalating prison-industrial complex (which Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser once called "not only a set of interest groups and institutions," but "also a state of mind") to our so-called Reality Television. The latter is where we willingly turn the panopticon upon ourselves in surveillance spectacles like Survivor, Big Brother, Fear Factor, American Idol and worse. (Much worse).

"One of the reasons we singled out media in V for Vendetta was because it is one of the most useful tools of tyranny," Moore said. "[It] might be a horrifying notion, but I'm sure there are people who think of television as perhaps one of their most intimate friends. And if the TV tells them that things in the world are a certain way, even if the evidence of their senses asserts it is not true, they'll probably believe the television set in the end. It's an alarming thought but we brought it upon ourselves."

The result has been our consensually mediated hyperreality and its very real consequences, including two devastating wars that have decimated millions in total, the destruction of our national economy (if not the global one) and an escalating environmental nightmare at the hands of excessive consumption. What follows from a serious political and economic addiction to incentivized pain and suffering? Nothing but abuse. Speaking of abuse....

Tasers: Nonviolent weaponry? Tell that to Oscar Grant. Or those pregnant women who were tasered. Or that 6-year old. Or that disabled man. Or....

You get the picture. There is perhaps no other recent technological innovation in widely politicized social play today than the Taser, which has spread like wildfire to law-enforcement organizations worldwide in search of options beyond the usual batons and chokeholds. In the TaseTr, they have found the perfect device for immobilizing offenders: One jolt from its " electro-muscular disruption technology" and you're pinewood, as they say in the business. And business is good, although the weaponry is more controversial than ever.

 
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