In John Cline’s article, “What Is a Machete Anyway?”, he questions the potential of technology (the example he uses of this being a smartphone) to be as politically and physically dangerous as a tool like the machete. I think he’s underestimating the range of technology out there.
He references the “Arab Spring” protests in his article as one prominent example of weaponizing technology: where people protested against their governments using the organization and international platforms social media lent them. Those protests left a lasting impact on the political landscape on the entire region one can see today. But Cline seems to think this way of using technology isn’t as long-lasting.
Popular culture disagrees. A trend that has picked up in the gaming world is the use of hacking as a form of combat. The exemplary game that made huge waves because of this was Watch_Dogs (here’s a trailer.) It’s a AAA (which means it’s a big production made by one of the big corporations; guaranteed to be a commercial success) lovechild of Grand Theft Auto and new-school spy films in which the biggest element of gameplay is the ability to manipulate your surroundings using your phone. Most missions rely on the use of the hacking feature to take down whoever you’re working against. In other words, weaponizing technology is something that we as a society are seeing more often.
A more concrete example of objects holding dual purposes as both great tools and weapons is this: a 3-D printer. 3-D printers have a lot of potential to help a lot of people. Through the work of brilliant individuals, you see how objects made from 3-D printers have helped cut cost dramatically for items people need and to act as a method of teaching the next generation.
And then someone created another kind of template to use.
In May of 2013, a group of people created the first fully realized 3-D printed gun. Which had its glitches, but people have been improving upon the original design for the past year. I personally remember the outrage and disgust around the Internet when the news was first released last year. Every commentator said something to the effect of either, “Why would these people corrupt this amazing technology meant for good?” or “It was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”
And I agreed with the latter. Technology grows as humans do; it takes on different functions and shapes and uses as a situation calls for it. Objects, technology in particular, are never inherently good or bad, but they can be painted by how people choose to use them. Just like the machete.
Damage can also be given in different ways. It can be a physical blow, with a machete or a 3-D printed gun, but it could also be information, as we saw in the “Arab Spring.” So I believe that while Cline’s overall analysis of the nature of symbolism in objects was well done, I think that he didn’t acknowledge that damage goes by a broader definition than it used to.
We may not be saying “down to the Apple” yet, but it could be sooner than he thinks.