Wednesday, May 25, 2011

adam curtis: the rise of the machines


Video - Trailer for Adam Curtis' new documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.

The Register | Adam Curtis: I've always wanted to make a film about managerialism. It's impossible, because with managers nothing really happens. What I'm dealing with here is the ideology behind managerialism. Behind all this, behind the flipchart, is the idea that you're nodes in a system, and 'our job' is to keep things stable.

Basically I've touched on technocratic ideas of organisation, and machine ideas of organisation a lot before, but never really done them big. Ever since the 1990s we've had this idea of connectivity - we're all connected. You meet in all sorts of areas. You meet it in talks about the global economy, we're all connected in a global world. You meet it in talks about nature - we're all interconnected in our world. And you meet it in utopian theories about the web.

These were really new ways of organising the world without power. There weren't any hierarchies in nature, everyone was a little node connected in an ecosystem. We wouldn't run it, we all ran it together, helped by computers.

I was suspicious of it because I hadn't noticed power had disappeared. The real bastions of power are as they were, and are more concentrated. So I decided to trace those ideas back to their source. It leads you back to an absolutely fascinating area, which you can loosely call cybernetics, and also information theory.

What links them all is a machine idea of organisation of order, based on information flowing around systems. It really began to come together post-war years with computers - you could organise these systems mathematically and predict [their behaviour].

So I've traced how fundamentally, an idea like that, which is fine as an engineering concept, and then a computer information concept, and an ordering principle - are then taken up by powerful people, by technocrats, and by us as models for wider ideas about how to organise society.

That's the story I try and tell - when you try and apply systems ideas in a wider area you can't deal with power. They get distorted, used and abused, they bring a naivety about human society which the powerful in the world find quite useful to extend their power a bit.

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