XI: jacques ellul didn’t see it coming because it was invisible - Langdon Winner

XI: jacques ellul didn’t see it coming because it was invisible


Computers come in; with each day the centrality of telephone and post office wanes.  Of all things to draw the contours of what has yet to unfold, the Ecopsychology Newsletter switches from recycled-paper-cum-soy-ink delivered to your (real) mailbox over to cyberspace, while a course in primitive earth-living skills appears on the web.  At the same time in-person meetings, dinners, and parties diminish in frequency.  The rush to everywhere and nowhere is launched.  24/7.  Overwhelm takes over.  Efficiency sets in. 
Community takes the hit. 
Helena Norberg-Hodge was right to see it coming, announcing in the mid-‘90’s that the exchange of instant information via email and websites could never substitute for peopled social movements.[i]  But the technology is now everywhere, and its purveyors are making an all-points display of techno-fix bravado about its ability to intervene in the problems previous technologies have in fact caused.  You do not see your comrades so much in person anymore; friendships are kept alive by staring at a screen throwing brash light at your eyes, electromagnetic radiation at your breasts.

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I lift Stephanie Mills’ report of the Jacques Ellul Society Mega-technology meetings from the bookshelf.  Turning Away from Technology’s subtitle seems now sadly preposterous:  “A New Vision for the 21st century.” [ii]  The whole 256 pages, in fact, vaults off its post-consumer-recovered-waste locus like a cry from an era of ink wells and quill pens.  Not that the perspective spoken herein is not as true and needed as ever; it’s just that the post-computer-cell-phone-entertainment-center/post-wireless-Katrina-Iraq-BP-spill ambiance we now inhabit has so altered the ground we stand on. 
Here is feminist philosopher Susan Griffinspeaking: “Science hasn’t stopped disease; in fact, we are as concerned as ever about coming plagues.  Technology has destroyed much of the environment and is now threatening the jobs of untold millions.  The market hasn’t decreased poverty; rather the gap between rich and poor is larger than ever.  Growing doubt challenging the new trinity (science, technology, capitalism), and especially technology, allows us a unique opportunity to provide an alternate vision.”[iii] 
Listen to Zapatista advisor Gustavo Esteva: “As far as I can see … most people on Earth do not have a ‘textual mind’like modern men and women.  They have not allowed the text to redefine and determine their own beings, developing, for example, the individual selves without which modern men and women cannot face each other.  (Most people) are not individual selves, but knots in nets of relations, determining their own views of themselves and others.  Those of them who become literate may often be reshaped as individual selves -- but many are now resisting such prospect.”[iv]
Here is educator Chet Bowers: “By amplifying the notion of the individual as the basic social unit, the computer reduces the possibility of trans-generational communication … The computer amplifies the modern orientation toward a highly experimental culture … Computers amplify a moral framework that represents relationships as human-centered and instrumental … Computers are now becoming a root metaphor that is leading us to re-metaphorize fundamental ways of understanding human experience, including life itself.”[v]
Cogent.  The hallmark of intelligence, in fact.  And yet somehow … now … so very passé -- as if we have time today to present alternative visions; as if pre-textual mind had a chance to forego the radioactive screen; as if the drawbacks of computers could be understood and the machines might be marginalized!  No, the fracturing forces the group identified with such clarity, the results we predicted, and many more we could not have foreseen – they came upon us like so many tsunamis to the shores of Indonesia.


June 2000.  An international gathering of scientists proclaims that no low-end threshold for safe exposure exists for electromagnetic radiation.[vi]
July 2001.  In Cyprusdemonstrators stage a peaceful protest against Britain’s planned military communications towers and demand the release of their prime minister, in jail for doing civil disobedience atop a 160-foot mast.  Police open fire.  A riot ensues.[vii]
February 2003.  After witnessing the biggest-ever protest meeting of a village in northern New Mexico, the local school board cancels an already-signed contract to erect cell towers on its schools.[viii]
March 2003.  The Catholic Church in Italy calls for cell phone antennas to be removed from bell towers, branding them dangerous to human health and spiritually “out of keeping.”[ix]
November 2003.  In Englandand Northern Irelandoutraged citizens bulldoze down cell towers –- as many as four in England and four in Ireland each week.[x]
August 2004.  The International Association of Firefighters calls for a moratorium on citing cell-phone antennas on fire stations.[xi]
February 2006.  Citing health concerns, Ontario Universityin Canadabans Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) from campus.[xii]
September 2006.  The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety releases the Benevento Resolution; signed by 31 scientists, it calls on governments to impose exposure limits.[xiii]
May 2007.  A BBC Panorama investigation finds that Wi-Fi ports can emit three times the signal radiation of a cell tower.[xiv]
June 2007.  In Spain citizens hold International Day against Electromagnetic Pollution to publicize the effects of exposure to high-voltage power lines, electric power substations, mobile telephony aerials, radio lines, and telecommunications systems like Wi-Fi and Wireless Inoperability Microwave Access (WiMAX).[xv]
September 2007.  Germany’s Environmental Ministry issues an unprecedented national warning to citizens: avoid exposure to radiation emanating from Wi-Fi and WiMAX ports in cafés, schools, public “hot spots, and private homes.”[xvi]
August 2007.  The European Environmental Agency demands immediate action to reduce exposure to radiation from Wi-Fi, WiMAX, mobile phones, and antennae.[xvii]
October 2007.  Masked protestors in a Druze village in Israelrip down a mobile phone mast.  Police open fire on them.[xviii]
December 2007.  The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety recognizes a growing incidence of electro-hypersensitivity and urges limits on further dissemination of wireless technologies.  Its Venice Resolution is signed by scientists from Italy, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil, Austria, Australia, Russia, and the U.S.[xix]
December 2007.  After only five months of the new Wi-Fi system in Paris’ libraries, the library union wins a moratorium on wireless ports due to the health effects already evident among clerks and workers.[xx]
January 2008.  For fear of exposure to electromagnetic radiation, thousands of Chinese demonstrators take to the streets to protest the extension of a magnetic levitation train through Shanghai.[xxi]
February 2008.  Cell phone antennas in Tudela, Spain, are ordered removed when damage to citizens’ health is revealed.[xxii]
March 2008.  After learning of health impacts, the Sebastopol City Council in Californiabreaks an already-signed contract to install citywide Wi-Fi.[xxiii]
April 2008.  The National Library of France dismantles its entire Wi-Fi system.[xxiv]
September 2008.  The West Linn-Wilsonville School Board of Portland, Oregon,  unplugs already-operating cell towers and cancels all leases for WiMAX.[xxv]
January 2009.  The U.S. National Safety Council calls for a nationwide ban on cell-phone use while driving, citing a Harvard study that links usage to 636,000 crashes and 2600 yearly deaths.[xxvi]
February 2009.  In France the Versailles Court of Appeals orders the dismantling of a relay antenna in Tassin la Demi-Lune, establishing legal recognition of health risks.[xxvii]
April 2009.  The U.K.’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers calls for suspension of Wi-Fi in classrooms.[xxviii]
May-September 2009.  The city of Portland, Oregon, challenges the U.S. Telecommunications Act’s refusal to consider health effects in the placement of wireless routers and base stations.[xxix]  The Los AngelesUnified School District, then the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, then Pima Countyin Arizona and Glendale, California, do the same.[xxx]
         March 2012.  Olvera, Spain becomes the first town in the world to ban electromagnetic radiation-emitting technologies.[xxxi]

I always knew that electromagnetic radiation was bad.  Remember how the microwave-oven company told you to jump back when you turned the thing on?  How army radio communicators and AM-FM personalities had a propensity to keel over from heart attacks?  How blasts of electromagnetic energy became the most effective killing machines for war?
Yes, I had put two and two together. 
But little did I know how pervasive telecommunications corporations were to make electromagnetic technologies in an already disaster-bound world.  By 2009, according to Swedish neuroscientist Dr. Olle Johansson and environmental lawyer Mats Dämvik, the amount of microwave exposure resulting from this expansion may now be as much as one million billion times greater than the natural radiation life evolved into.[xxxii]  At the end of his life, when abiding by the rigors of scientific admission became unimportant to him, founder of bio-electromagnetic studies Dr. Robert O. Becker proclaimed, “At the present time … the greatest polluting element in the earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields.  I consider (it) to be far greater, on a global scale, than warming or the increase of chemicals in the environment.”[xxxiii]
On the global scale the World Trade Organization’s policies of corporate rule and market-place hegemony lay the basis of unimpeded proliferation.  In the U.S. the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is what threw the industry open for full-tilt-boogey development.  Only one out of all the elected officials in Congress actually read the Manhattan-telephone-book-sized tome, while the other legislators seemed to assume that the act dealt with ho-hum utilities matters.[xxxiv]  But, in fact, its designers were poised with fangs sharpened for the profit grab of all time. 
It is said that the legislation was forged specifically to avoid the “pitfalls” the nuclear industry had encountered after its survivors –- downwinders, uranium miners, atomic veterans –- began suing the government; industry protection from liability for health effects is built in, and the ability for citizens to determine if and where antennas go or use biological effects as an argument to ban them are built out.[xxxv]  Private property and market “freedom” rule; democracy and sovereignty -- not.  It is also said that the telecommunications industry with its never-ending parade of “state-of-the-art” twists on last month’s “so-yesterday” device is the one commercial endeavor bolstering the U.S. economy.  Without growth from telecommunications, it is thought, the financial system would not recover from the house-of-cards collapse that occurred in 2008.
My education as a contemporary Luddite prepared me to see what was going on.  Along with my colleagues at the Jacques Ellul Society, I had studied the means and methods of technology dissemination.  But since our last meeting in 1996, I have stood as a lonely witness to the perpetration of what could be the most astounding scam of all time. 
As with nuclear weapons and power, the strategy has been to construct civilian acceptance so that the military’s electromagnetic weaponry would appear mundane.  With nuclear, if people thought the source of their electricity was as normal as the washing machines it ran, then they might believe atomic weapons were normal too.  The same strategy has been reinvented by the telecommunications industry.  If you are unquestionably jazzed about your ability to take a photo of Brad Pitt jumping into a cab or download a tune from your childhood, if you insist on your “right” to tell your mother you are now seated in the airplane, if you fear being alone in the woods –- all of which are urges not symptomatic of being a human being,  but of living in mass technological society -- then you are the perfect subject for technologies that make you “feel” less alone, more taken care of, more potent.  Why would you want to contemplate such pesky aspects of your new-found saviors as their effects on your child’s nervous system?  Or your neighbor’s heart rhythms?  Why would you dare to burst through the veil of encapsulated individualism that defines mass consumer society -- and think for a moment of the whole of life?



This blog is a book. Please feel free to read the next chapter now. Go to the Table of Contents under the introduction on the right side of the page and click on the next chapter.


[i] Statement by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Mega-technology Conference, Jacques Ellul Society, Dartington Hall, Devon U.K., October, 1994.
[ii] Stephanie Mills, Turning Away from Technology: A New Vision for the 21st Century. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1997.
[iii] Stephanie Mills, Turning Away from Technology, p. 65.
[iv] Stephanie Mills, Turning Away from Technology, p. 174.
[v] Stephanie Mills, Turning Away from Technology, pp. 182-3.
[vi]International Conference on Cell Tower Siting, Salzburg Resolution,  June 8, 2000, www.salzburg.gv.at/salzburg_resolution_e.htm.
[vii] David Graves, “Battle of Bases Will Go On,”Telegraph,July 5, 2001.
[viii] The author participated in this effort along with Stephanie Mills, Chet Bowers, and others.
[ix] Bruce Johnson, “Church Tolls the Knell for Phone Masts,” Telegraph, March 5, 2003.
[x] Daniel Foggo, “British Protestors Topple Mobile Phone Masts as Health Scare Spreads,” Telegraph, November 30, 2003.
[xi] International Association of Firefighters, Cell Tower Resolution, August 2004, www.iaff.org/hs/Resi/CellTowerFinal.htm.
[xii] John Leyden, “Canadian University Hot Under the Collar Over Wi-Fi,” The Register, February 22, 2006.
[xiii]  International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety, BeneventoResolution, September 2006. www.icems.org .
[xiv] “Wi-Fi – A Warning Signal,” BBC, May 21, 2007,  www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2007/05_may/21/panorama .html .
[xv]“International Day Against Electromagnetic Pollution,”/“Contaminación Electromagnético,” Ecologistas en Acción, June 2007.
[xvi] Geoffrey Lean, “GermanyWarns Citizens to Avoid Using Wi-Fi,” Independent,September 9, 2007.
[xvii] Geoffrey Lean, “Europe’s Top Environmental Watchdog Is Calling for Immediate Action To Reduce Exposure,” Independent, September 16, 2007.
[xviii] “Dozens Hurt in Israel DruzeVillage Clashes,” Agence-France Presse, Jerusalem, October 30, 2007; and Isabel Kershner,  “Israeli Police Raid on Druze Town Turns into Riot,” International Herald Tribune, October 30, 2007.
[xix]International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety, “The Venice Resolution,” December 17, 2007, www.icems.eu .
[xx] “Moratoire sur le Wi-Fi dans les Bibiothèques de la Ville de Paris,” Bibiothèques en Lutte: L’actualite Syndicale  des Bibliothèques à Paris,  December 2007.
[xxi] “Shanghai Police Break Up ‘Maglev’ Train Protest,” Reuters, January 13, 2008.
[xxii] Diego Carasusán, “Las Operadores Deberán Retirar en 15 Días 2 Antennae de Móviles,” Diario de Navarra,  Febrero 3, 2008.
[xxiii] Sandi Maurer, “Sebastopol CA Terminates Contract for Free Citywide Wi-Fi,” Mobilfunk-Newsletter EMF-Omega-News, March 20, 2008.
[xxiv] “France National Library Gives Up Wi-Fi,” www.next-up.org, April 3, 2008.
[xxv] Wendy Owen, “West Linn-Wilsonville SchoolBoard to Unplug Cell Towers,”  The Oregonian,  September 14, 2008.
[xxvi] “National Safety Council Calls for Nationwide Ban on Cell Phone Use While Driving,”  Itasca ILwww.nsc.org/news/cellphone_ban.aspx,  January 12,  2009.
[xxvii] Senateur Jean Desessard, “Le danger des antennes-relais pour la santé infin reconnu,”  www.liberation.fr/terre/0101316959-bouygues-telecom-condamne-en-appel-a-demonter-des-antennes-relais; and www.numerama.com/magazine/11895-Bouygues-condamne-en-appel-a-demonter-une-antenne-relais.html.
[xxviii] “Fears That Wi-Fi May Cause Cancer in Children,” April 9, 2009, www.educationmatters.ie/2009/04/09/fears-that-wi-fi-may-cause-cancer-in-children.
[xxix]Resolution No. 36706, City of Portland, Oregon, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, May 20, 2009.
[xxx]  Los Angeles Unified School District Resolution, May 26, 2009, http://cloutnow.org/lausd/ ; “Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Calls for Repeal of Federal Cell Tower Health Preemption,” June 2, 2009,
www.org/cloutnow.org ;  Pima County Resolution No. 2009-188,  August 4,  2009,  www.pima.gov/cob/e-agenda/ ‘  and Melanie Hicken, “Glendale Joins Lawsuit against FCC,”  Glendale News Press, September 30, 2009.
[xxxi]First TownFree of Electromagnetic Radiation Unanimously Approved in Spain.”
[xxxii] Mats Dämvik and Olle Johansson, “Gör upp arvet efter SSI” (“Closure of the now-defunct Swedish Radiation Protection Authority”), Boras Tidning,  March 18, 2009; http://www.bt.se/debatt/gor-upp-arvet-efter-sii(1216430).gm.
[xxxiii]  Robert O. Becker, M.D., 2000. Quoted in B. Blake Levitt and Theresa Morrow, “Electrosmog – What Price Convenience?” Paper presented at “The Health/Environmental Effects of Cell Towers and Wireless Technologies,” EMR Policy Institute and Citizens Concerned About Wireless Technology, Sheffield MA, April 14, 2007.
[xxxiv] B. Blake Levitt, “Cell-Phone Towers and Communities,” Orion Afield, Autumn 1988, pp. 32-36.
[xxxv] See B. Blake Levitt, “Cell-Phone Towers and Communities.”

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