Thursday, August 14, 2008
There's a studiedly non-committal editorial in The New York Times about technology at the Olympics. The athletes, it says, have become 'techno-probes' and the games are relayed to us by an unprecedented variety of media. The swimmers - well, Phelps - are breaking records with ease thanks to the new body suits and wave-dissipation in the pools. Without getting all luddite about this, I do find the bland tone of the leader remarkable - surely there is something to be said about this phenomenon beyond mere reportage. Of course, it wouldn't be true to say that the science sucks all the sport out of it. Assuming everybody has equal access, the technology itself is sportingly neutral and the outcome continues to be determined by individual, human effort. But, given that some athletes will certainly be doping themselves, the doctrine of sportingly neutral technology should also mean they are all allowed to take drugs. One this was permitted, of course, everybody would have to take them. This would really make them into 'techno-probes'. Furthermore, the technology is definitely not commercially neutral. The Olympics would be equally fair if body suits and wave dissipation were banned. The technology is not necessary, it's only effect is to increase absolute speeds and to shift product. Within weeks, if not days, I expect to see body suits, if not wave dissipators, all over my local pool. Aside from the matter of individual effort and, of course, the Chinese rulers' need to daze their people, the games are overwhelmingly about consumption, about finding new things and new ways for us to consume. And that is their true power.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:48 am