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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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"I don't see the issue as politicized in the classic sense of conservative versus liberal issues," Taser International spokesman Steve Tuttle told AlterNet. "Instead, I see a tremendous amount of polarization on Taser technology. There is nothing worse than being irrelevant in this day and age, and the polarization is something that overall is good for debate when you have a revolutionary sea change in modern day policing. We're changing the world," Tuttle added, "and true revolutions don't come without pain."

Speaking of pain, Raytheon's Pain Ray, more marketably known as the Active Denial System, operates on a similar premise. Instead of causing grievous bodily harm with bullets, batons or worse, it merely directs high-frequency microwave radiation at the nervous system, shocking the subject into compliance, so to speak. Like the Taser, the pain ray can penetrate thick clothing, although it cannot go through walls. Yet.

Tuttle's position that Taser is changing the world is accurate, although time will ultimately tell in which ways and how much. Right now, 15,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide use Tasers, "even though no one thought these life-saving devices would be carried full time by street cops seven years ago," he said. That's a significant adoption rate, and one that is surely to rise, no matter how much bad press the Taser gets. And it gets a lot. Whether it is being misapplied to the wrong people or parts of the body, or being targeted by the United Nations and others as a tool of torture and political suppression, it has continued to find its name associated with one scandalous report after another in the years since its rapid adoption.

Taser International's Tuttle thinks the problem comes down, predictably enough, to technology. And its brave new world of public relations. (Or propaganda, as the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, once called it.)

"The police are deploying a tool that is not only misunderstood, but also scares people by the very nature of using electricity," Tuttle said. "The first top-of-mind thought is that someone is getting shocked, and stigma is hard to overcome and requires an inordinate amount of explaining to do to truly understand how the Taser actually works. Throw in safety concerns by critics with misguided agendas, and you have a very challenging environment to not only work within, but you're constantly answering negatives.“

As with CT scans, cell phones and surveillance technology, more study is required on both sides of the divide. According to Amnesty International's Web site, "No study has adequately examined the impact of Tasers on potentially at-risk individuals," or "people who have medical conditions, take prescription medications, are mentally ill or are under the influence of narcotics." Which is to say, a lot of people getting tasered.

Like the aforementioned gadgets, machines and innovations, it could be that the Taser, like so many technological wonders, could eventually cause more problems than it solves. Compared to a baton and a chokehold, to say the least, the Taser is user-friendly pain compliance defined. But Tuttle, like CTheory, is blaming its problems on humans, not technology.

"The ease of use has nothing to do with the controversies," he said. "Use of force must still adhere to constitutional guidelines and civil rights issues. A violation is a violation regardless of the ease of use."

Scott Thill runs the online mag His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

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