Evil Empires Come and Go, Banality is Eternal

A friend of mine passed this article from the New Yorker on to me, “Cheap Words: Amazon is good for customers. But is it good for books?,” by George Parker. It’s a very interesting, and lengthy, read. Much discussion ensued essentially revolving around the decline in the quality of books as well as Amazon’s apparent assumption of the role of Evil Empire.

That discussion also led me to think about how technological revolution seems to always produce the “evil empire” of the day. Industrialization brought the “Factory Barons” who were appropriately decried for their practically barbaric employment practices. When the steam locomotive made its appearance, the “Rail Barons” were born, and their cut-throat tactics made them the evil empires of the day. After trains gave way to automobiles, “Car Barons” made an appearance. Then there were “Air Barons.” It seems that new technology goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to be perceived as the new face of evil.

I’m sure much of that is related to a simple fear of change in which we’re not sure what the future will bring and so we cling to what we know. Not a little bit of that tendency to ascribe evil motives is the, well, appearance of them. Descriptions of brow-beating capitalism at work are apt to inspire us towards that conclusion. Now, in the Digital Age (I prefer that term to “Information Age”), it’s even more likely since our personal space is being invaded as well as and in connivance with our physical habits, a la behaviorial shopping algorithms, from the two giants of the industry: Amazon and Google (and, by the way, if you have to tell people you’re being good….you’re probably not).

Where will this all end? Well…people still ride trains, drive cars, ride in planes, and use the Internet. We have even, occasionally, been known to both and buy read books. What’s noticeable is that the “new” soon becomes normal, and, soon after it becomes normal, it becomes commoditized. And, once it’s commoditized, it usually becomes unremarkable. I’m not sure I’m ready to surrender my personal space to banality, though…


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