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Spider's stratagem

Updated Monday, 12th July 2010

Since Da Vinci's flying machine caused early technofear, people have always distrusted the spider's stratagem.

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Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there."
Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "to ask me is in vain, For who goes up your
winding stair can ne'er come down again."

This is the first stanza of Mary Howitt’s poem, written in the 19th century, which was immortalised by Lewis Carroll.

In the 21st century you would have thought that the interchange between the technophobic flies and the technophilliac spiders was the contemporary struggle of business and society.

The irrational fear of technology that constitutes technophobia seems to be completely baffling for many companies, consumers and commentators. The seduction of the form, function, creativity and beauty of the web is sometimes so overpowering that our lust for life can get seriously distracted.

Similarly the glistening of raindrops falling from a spider’s web, after the sun comes out, is one of the visual wonders of nature. But, in a society that is increasingly surveyed by digital means, you don’t have to be a technophobe to not wish to enter technology’s parlour.

Yet technology is much more than adapting to non-human structures, it is central to the social practices of modernity. The intellectual own-goal of post-modernism in which everything is relative and nothing is rationally solid aids irrational fear of change.

Each generation rejects and finally embraces technology as it adapts to its use and impact. George Stephenson’s Rocket helped usher in the railway age but railways invoked strong opposition among the Victorian populace.

Leonardo da Vinci’s dream of a flying machine stimulated the interest of the Inquisition, and fear of flying is not just the title of a modern feminist fable. It is a common condition - as the logic of heavier than air machines is insufficiently powerful to overcome visceral emotion.

Da Vinci's early flying machine
Da Vinci's flying machine

The contemporary fear of technology is often a function of dystopian visions of a world in which were all start to become cyborg replicants with our memories and imaginations manufactured. In this Stepford-world we all become the ideal-typical citizen, displaying no physical flaw or psychology fissure; the transmogrified dream of a Second Life existence.

Perhaps this is a more appealing vision than the nostalgic longings for a false past, akin to well-known television adverts promoting a brand of bread, which conveniently overlook the disabling poverty of the time.

Technophobia can act as a selection device in the working environment. Many human resource managers in business and organisations often seek to recruit Avatar-like individuals.

The recruitment of charismatic characters who are pleasing on the eye may however undermine any team ethic, as these attractive newcomers provoke envy and dislike, especially if they display heroic qualities of technophillia.

Despite the billions of dollars that are spent on the global management training industry, the common assumption among trainers that work colleagues should like each other is often a false one.

There are legion stories of how individuals in sports teams, whether football or Formula One, and musical groups hate each other but as teams and groups are very successful. It is just because they are creative or is it a condition of the anomie and alienation that work creates?

The Spider’s Stratagem is one of Bernardo Bertolucci’s most renowned films. The central character, Magnani, returns to the village in which his father is lionised as an anti-fascist hero. But he finds that the father was more of a collaborator than a hero. Disillusioned, Magnani descends into a journey of madness in which his love for his late father turns to hatred.

The tale of the spider and fly equally applies to technology and the work environment. In many instances, technology enables us to do things more ably whether in or out of work. Liking your colleagues may be as irrational disliking them in the to ability to do your job. The bottom line is that you just have to respect both resources, whether virtual or real, which just might keep companies in business and employees in work, able to consume a large amount and range of goods and services.




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