Rutsky’s article starts with Marx’s concept of the fetishism of commodities in regards to technology by asserting that high tech (and here no distinction is made between gadgetry and non-gadgetry) has become commodified to such an extent that access to high tech has defined a new class of people who are “smart enough, or hip enough, to want it”, negating use value in the process. For Marx, this subsumption of use value attributes a degree of autonomy to high tech, which Rutsky extends to suggest that the fetishization of high tech gives it a mystical “life” of its own.
However, this is contradicted with the next argument that links technology inherently to Weberian Western modernity, citing both Marcus and Heidegger (note that this argument does not take into account neo-Weberians who argue just the opposite: that modernity is in no way dependent on technology). This view requires us to look at technology as being “dead” – indeed, as Rutsky notes, the “very opposite of ‘fetishism’”. He links this contradiction of argument regarding the relative life- or dead-ness of technology to a discussion of Western- versus other-ness, essentially asserting that the fetishism of technology relies on an implicit “technological other” which is necessarily attributed to a “technological unconscious” due to communal repression (following Freud, and neglecting his later disavowal of the unconscious/subconscious/conscious model in favor of the id/ego/super-ego; indeed, Rutsky later mixes both of these models in the article).
Rutsky uses this idea to present a number of examples that suggest a linking of technology with a “premodern” “primitive” “exotic” “other” that is separate from Western conceptions of modernity, and is in fact repressed by modernity (Forbidden Planet, the Godzilla series, Japanese manga and anime, William Gibson). The notion of technological mutation (linked to the idea of technological development for its own sake, regardless of use value) further ascribes autonomy to technology, as evidenced with his discussion of the internet as experiencing an “organic growth”. This organic growth results in an “aesthetic of pastiche”, which Rutsky then links to the notion of complexity as exemplified by chaos theory, implicitly suggesting that technological evolution is simultaneously random and controlled.
Organic growth of technology will result in an “autonomous, uncontrollable, sentient other”, signifying that the loss of human control necessarily follows. Mankind will then experience a kind of Marxian alienation or Durkheimian anomie (although he doesn’t use those terms), as becoming a “slave to technology” makes one “less than human”. This can be avoided in part through the development of cyborgs (the “posthuman” in the book’s title), essentially providing modern humans with an escape from modernity’s view of technology as “dead”. This merging of the physiological organic with the technological organic provides us with a means for ascribing “life” to technology by merging the West with the “other”, essentially giving “aura” to technology (I take this to be a contradiction of Benjamin’s aura, although Rutsky suggests earlier that it is a form of cultural aura that provide the means for technological mutation to exist in the first place).
For Rutsky, the people who will be best suited in this environment will be the individuals who maintain a position on the “cutting edge” of technology. Technology fetishism is one way to preserve the hierarchical class structure (as mentioned above) in that the high tech elite (those on the cutting edge of technology) retain capitalist autonomy through consumption and hence, control over techno-culture in general. Technological “prophets” (or, for us, technological avatars) have subsequently obtained the most privileged level within this culture, as they are the farthest-seeing and most knowledgeable – this also puts them in the position of mediating new technologies for the masses, as they have privileged access to the newest high tech.
Rutsky’s argument for the view of technological evolution as a form of organic growth is arrived at via some twisted and contradictory logical turns (some of which are mentioned explicitly above). His opposition of technology as the embodiment of Western modernity versus some sort of spiritualistic primitive other is bothersome throughout the whole of the essay, as it doesn’t seem clear on which side of the argument he falls; in addition, some of his examples blatantly merge the two with little explanation (e.g., his discussion of manga, anime, and the Godzilla series of films in Japan, “a country that is at once ‘technologically advanced’ and ‘non-Western’”). His use of Marx is consistent, but again, his view is unclear: he exalts the notion of a class of high tech elite until the very end of the article, where he succinctly problematizes the issue of lack of access to technology without further discussion. His use of Freud is confused as well, as noted above. Also sprinkled throughout the article are statements offered up as fact that require a little more empirical evidence (or at least a citation) than a simple assertion (e.g., he states that the “popular cultural forms and genres” of Japanese manga and anime “have generally been regarded as beneath the notice of those who give serious consideration to technology and techno-culture”, when simple anecdotal evidence suggests that fans of these forms count among the most techno-savvy individuals – a quick browse through the pages of Wired magazine, his paradigm of techno-culture, should make this clear).
I see this article as contributing to the Manovich and Haraway direction of problematizing “new” media, which necessarily draws upon Benjamin (though all three contradict him at times).