Computer Love: Technophilia in the Real World


To many of you, I'm sure the term "technophilia" conjures up images of young greasy hackers with long hair coding long into the night and slavishly buying evey new techno-gadget they can get their hands on. Or maybe fat, sweaty men masturbating to internet porn. Or acned pre-teens pounding the keyboards in cybersex chat rooms. Well, I'm here to tell you that all your ideas are right. In fact, technophilia, the love of machines and technology, is all that and more. That's part of the problem with studying this field which has become an obsession to so many -- it's so difficult to pin down.

To some, their love of machines is intensely sexual. But this doesn't mean there has to be anything traditionally associated with sex involved. Many computer programmers, such as software engineer/Author Ellen Ullman, describe the act of coding as a sexual act -- with all the pleasure, pain, and high-strung emotions that come along with it. To others, it is not designing and controlling computers which is pleasurable, but using it, interacting with it. Of course, as always computers blur the lines a little and the distinction between these two groups is a little vague. For our purposes, though we will generally talk of computer culture in terms of two distinct types: programmers, who create programs, and users, who use them. This may seem a little simplistic to some, but allows for a wide range of discussion on digital culture.

Of course, contrary to popular belief (and linguistic implication), technophilia does not have to be sexual. Some, such as Yale professor David Gelernter find a beauty and elegance in man-made machines that is absent in nature. A victim of the unabomer for his promotion of thechnology, Gelernter is tapping into something that I see as quite natural: an intrinsic drive to enhance our abilities and capabilities with machines. From the invention of the wheel, to the triumph of the Internet, humanity has been using prosthetic aids to improve our productivity and quality of life. It seems only natural then that we should find such devices aesthetically, as well as practically appealing. (That's not to say that machines are inherently aesthetically pleasing, only that they can be.) The acme of this thinking evolution is, of course, feminist critic Donna Haraway, whose "Cyborg Manifesto" explores many of the questions these issues raise. This mode of thinking, where we view any extensions of our body, be they mechanical or technological, as prosthetics, prevents us from attempting to view this issue with any sort of a detached perspective. We are all cyborgs.

Exploration of these issues has not been limited to critics, of course. Modern Cyberpunk Sci Fi writers, such as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, foreground many of them in their work. The worlds they create can be read as logical extrapolations of the present day based on our cultural technophilia. The observations that they make on the future are often carefully couched to comment on the present, and often their unique perspectives raise many interesting issues. A study of them is enlightening indeed.

But of course, there cannot be a study of the future without its Barthesian opposition, and so I also consider where we came from. Although there've always been people who obsess about tinkering with machines and technology, only quite recently this craze has infested all of pop culture. Manifesting itself in all manner of ways, from the computational designs of Alan Turing to the ever-popular TV show Star Trek to the techno group Kraftwerk with their belief that "machines are funky," technophilia has steadily played an increasingly large role in determining what is culturally popular to popular culture.

I'm sure by now many of you are realizing that this site contains no pictures of naked women engaging in unspeakable acts with robots, and are leaving disapointedly to continue your search. That's fine. For those of you who are still reading I'm issuing a challenge: don't be a passive reader. Interact. Participate. If I do my job right, my links should be somewhat along the lines of the links your brain makes. Follow them. Get into the text: question it when it seems to be right and get really pissed when you know it's wrong. Ask your self: why is technophilia worth studying in the first place? Is it the province of a deranged minority or a massive cultural phenomenon? Is it a disease that needs to be cured or a strength we should encourage?

I don't pretend to have the answers to any of these questions. If you do, mail me.

  authored by