Social Effects of Technology, or the American Sickness


Another draft-like essay but this one drawing some interesting parallels between Brodey’s former life in Milford, NH and his new life in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.




MAYDAY IN USA – a holiday for other places 

A communist celebration Day

1. LABOUR DAY – 1st Monday in September a holiday for everyone. In our town Milford N.H last year floats by a few private citizens. Better business bureau. John Birch Society, all stores in town – Auto manufacturers. All look the same displays of goods. Bands from schools and churches and commercial bands.

Our float – behind the book God trusts

Action: an oddity of people enjoying themselves in a parade teasing people giving away balloons

Centralized truth which we control 


When went to our town – the sense of community was strong – in 3 years – values had changed – Mike who drank too much and his Italian grocery store. When he was sick, people helped [?/shipment] from Boston to Milford. Gas stations on the highway, Banks Real Estate Agents in town. The big industry (making gun parts) here’s consultants in town planning. To deep the town clean and quaint. 

PLASTIC – The new hardware store music goods plentifully – informed people – relationship [nill] – prepurchasing 

A walk into town is no longer a dialogue

3A. [Examin] Dialogue

It is the kind of conversation in words or behavior which we all delight in – a real conversation. 

Sometimes in our town I would visit the old man who had an auto junk yard. We would sit in the sun …ever quite knowing what each other would say, checking when we thought we understand each others message by jumping ahead using our anticipation, and enriching the dialogue by moving into it what would have been static, noise – meaningless before.

Discussions with Joe in the car leaps of creation and learning after work bunch together. 


Our town had changed in its capacity for dialogue, for intimacy. It had become profit wise, a more efficient place. Its local contextual efficiency was destroyed so that contexts to fit the generalizations had to be created, so that they would be made viable. 


5. The town had changed – people had changed, the ethic had changed, chickens of the barnyard, mixed with sheep and goats and cows had become cows in a row automatically milked, chickens sat in boxes, laying eggs, that moved on rollers, to be automatically sorted candled and boxed, and moved on to department stores. For sale, to people who in their institutions were likewise being boxed sorted and sold as shit. 

Sometimes we bought directly from the farmer who lived nearby. More often from the chain. The mechanics were set up. To buy direct or consume less was to be a hippie. 

The hens were fed nutrient mash, and hormones to fatten them so they would be more heavy and profitable. With no regards for their health. They were isolated instead of given penicillin in their mash.

And while I watched over the 3 years I was in the little town, people moved into their square little boxes, (at work) produced eggs for some distant use, and were fed more and more mash.

They watched television or out their picture window at a world they had no control of. They became more audience of consumer. They were programmed more and more to enjoy mash, their calls, to use more goods, to be more productive in their plant – more eggs produced and their chickens consumed, and more profits made, at least on the books they could then be rewarded with more goods. Their worlds were made simple like the chickens. 


In a capitalistic society, the motion force is profit – at any price. The product is money, the biproduct goods and services, the raw material is the reduction of variety, particularly as capitalism moves increasingly to a centralist system as it must, by the very definition of its growth.

7. How does Technology enter this scene? Does technology tend to reduce the quality of life by reducing variety, while increasing the quality of life by supplying other necessities. Is mass manufacture cheaper? Make with peanuts 

8. The costs in a system depends on our values. ie the way we evaluate costs.

Thus in Norway the argument, is a […]


7B The reasons are many; but we should look at one reason since it is the evening of May Day. And a time for self-criticism, which is of use, since the most immediate thing we can change is our own behavior.

How much has been the cost of ‘Expert’ technology. This will depend on what we value. Let us say that we value the maintenance of the small fisherman, of the small farmer, of the self-organizing potential of a single fiord – entering into dialogue internally as well as among its interested neighbours. “Let’s have a house raising party, their season was bad we must share”. How has ‘expert’ technology helped destroy activity among those from whom the possibility of activity is being trained out. I do not mean to imply that there is a total amount of activity to be distributed and if the professionals get more the non-professionals have less.

The technology supplied to the larger size unit had destroyed the technology of the smaller size unit. While speeding change in the larger unit so it is unstable. Let me move to a more abstract level…

3A. I will make a jump and return. It is easier for an airman flying over Vietnam to drop a bomb on a spot on his map – than it is for him to personally face to face, squash and explode people into smithereens – splatters of liquid and bone.  

It is easier for a professional in a company office or university or soot office remote from the user of the equipment he creates, to destroy a village than it is for a person of skill who is a member of the village to do the same. The airman dropping his bomb is a professional. Don’t be angry, so I’m entitled today to bring to your mind the degree to which the University is no longer in dialogue with those who are not experts, specialists in one way or another. Tomorrow is may day, celebrating the escape from domination, when the workers also claimed their rights (as professionals) by forming their larger collectives of a size match industrial control units. 

I said I would move an abstraction I have in the metaphor preceding but let me be more explicit. Union and management together form a control unit.  

I believe that any self-organizing group, creature, beast, collective be it a school of fish, a collection of cells called human, a social collective of humans or animals – a city, a town, a village, whatever the size unit, or the timing of its rhythms – Each self-organizing unit that is alive has an ‘information processing level that it moves quite slowly in relation to the information it processes. Here to use an example changing “information of use” to “oxygen of use” – there is for any living collective using oxygen a level of oxygen metabolism, a range within which it maintains itself or becomes unstable and ultimately dies. Thus if I move to the high mountains – the Andes – my oxygen metabolism will change alternate enzyme systems will come into play, but this will happen quite slowly, and only in a limited way. So it is with information.

10. Now I am saying that the process metabolism of information, is for any species preset or at least changes slowly. Now to join up a few parts in what I have been saying then what happened in our little town of Milford was that when the supermarket came in, the farms became specialized and the size unit of production was increased, the information content ie variety that has meaning went down though the size and amount of goods went up.

The possibility of dialogue and self-organization was reduced, organization became increasingly by directive and poor. Again, when the small country school turned into a factory for producing free and educated children – the variety was reduced, and the level of excellence became defined as the ability to join into more centralized activity where reduced variety was reduced, and in its place was put capacity to play a limited game with more specialized skills. Now it is elegance in chicken house design for the whole country or trawler design, or knowledge about all fish, rather than the medley – mix of skills that used in the past to define a wise man or computers. 

But has the information level in the University, among the professionals gone down! Is my model perhaps too simple. Let us change the size of the collective we speak of, from the ‘clump’ of houses on a hillside serving each other, to the self-organizing system ‘natural’ herd, school if it were fish called “society” – the city – the town of Trondheim, the corporation Gulf Oil – or Esso. At this large level knowledge information has gone up but the dialogue information has gone down. We can build huge tankers, and do it so they fail only seldom. We can create forms of cattle, chickens, grains that produce more growth. And now that these huge tankers ply the waters and any, if seldom, failure means disaster we have created the problems that require the professionals of this large size and of necessity – centralist sort. 

Large scale of technology creates the need for more and larger scale technology. The dialogue between the main and the tanker must be mediated by instrumentation that extends a man’s skill. He learns the special language that males this possible. A boy from the small village – the clump of houses on the fiord – has been trained – and now is able to enter into dialogue with computers that help him to control the huge tanker. He is the hero of the village. Equal skill is needed by the small ships captain – for his time and size grain his rhythmicity is closer to the waves. He lives closer to his context in dialogue with it but he will not be valued in our large grain society in the same way as the captain of the tanker. He is to be taken seriously, as is his tanker. The level of error he can manage is to be judged differently than the error allowed to the man whose play and close to the size of himself and his surround, can do little more than result in his personal death. The little ship and its behavior is of a different nature than the oversize tanker. Five hundred little ships have a behavior quite different than their summation in one huge ship. But a fleet of 500 little ships a school of them is again quite different than their sum. 

But 500 little ships all built the same are closer to their sum. Or to say the same in another example. A single artificially developed variety of wheat that has been carefully selected and researched, and grown is not the same in its capacity to withstand a threat outside that for which it was developed – as is a variety of many kinds of wheat sufficiently similar that they are all called wheat though not much alike.

As the wheat locally developed is replaced by industrial wheat, the yield goes up but stability goes down – the capacity of the wheat to evolve itself is reduced – a threat does not kill off a small area but worldwide production. To prevent this, the industrial wheat is more closely controlled in its genetic structure. This is the contribution of the old technology that destroys our ecology. Are we being reduced in our variety by our technology? – Is our natural information level capacity being threatened first boredom then overload? How can these questions be formulated so they are more relevant to action? 

Just because we lowered info rate: to get a result in size or speed without acknowledging the cost.