Sunday, December 1, 2019

#335 / C.H.T. And Ethical Tech? SMB!

There are two kinds of people, says a recent article in The New Yorker, "those who know nothing about Esalen and those who purport to know everything about it." 

I don't fit into either of those categories. I don't know everything, but I do know something about Esalen. I have actually been there, but that was "back in the day." I was an undergraduate student and bathed naked in mixed company in its sulphur spring baths with the stars dazzling overhead, gazing out from the cliffs at the noisy, endless ocean that stretched to the horizon. That was over fifty years ago, and no mind-altering substances were involved (at least in my case). I don't know much about Esalen except for that memory of that one night with sulphur and the stars, so I clearly don't know everything about Esalen. I would be particularly loathe to presume to say anything about Esalen in its current incarnation - except what I have just learned from The New Yorker, of course. 

The New Yorker article says that higher-end accommodations at Esalen now cost about $3,000 for the weekend. The article also recounts how the Silicon Valley tech brotherhood, which has invaded my own hometown, bigtime, is turning Esalen into one of its "in" spots. Some sort of retreat center in Myanmar is also mentioned, but prices are not quoted for that one.

I recommend this article to you, but want you to know that it is not, mostly, focused on Esalen (or on other consciousness-raising retreat centers the world around). Rather, the article is directed to current efforts to bring ethics to our high-tech culture, including efforts led by the Center for Humane Technology, which was apparently spawned from an effort called "Time Well Spent."

Here is how C.H.T. (as it is styled in The New Yorker) presents itself on its website

As you can see from this advertisement, C.H.T. is aspirational and inspirational in its ambitions. The New Yorker article, by Andrew Marantz, will give you a good overview. Suffice it to say that extremely wealthy high-tech entrepreneurs, and their friends, and followers, and hangers-on, are now worried that the new technologies that they have invented, and sold to a wondering world, may actually be undermining real human interaction, and that those technologies are thus putting in peril the possibility of a truly humane and decent human future.

I don't necessarily disagree with that analysis, but the specifics of what these rich guys are suggesting that we do about it strike me as more than just a little bit self-indulgent and self-glorifying. Trips to Esalen and the Myanmar resort are convenient examples of what I am talking about.

My reaction to C.H.T. and its efforts to create "ethical tech" is easily encapsulated in a single expression. I suggest using three little words that compress to one acronym:

So Much Bullshit!

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