This basic guide is designed to help screening organisers and teachers think about and engage with some of the issues presented in the film with their audiences in a constructive way. There are some questions below that could help open up helpful conversation, as well a summary of key points for further exploration.
Inspiring thinking, conversation, and action on the film’s specific arguments is a key goal.
This guide aims to help foster constructive screenings that remain focused on the issues and arguments raised in the film.
We live in a world of screens. The average adult spends the majority of their waking hours in front of some sort of screen or device. We’re enthralled, we’re addicted to these machines. How did we get here? Who benefits from this arrangement? What are the cumulative impacts on people, society and the environment? What may come next if this culture is left unchecked, to its end trajectory, and is that what we want?
Stare Into The Lights My Pretties investigates these questions with an urge to return to the real physical world, to form a critical view of technological escalation driven by rapacious and pervasive corporate interest. Covering themes of addiction, privacy, surveillance, information manipulation, behaviour modification and social control, the film lays the foundations as to why we may feel like we’re sleeprunning into some dystopian nightmare with the machines at the helm. Because we are, if we don’t seriously avert our eyes to stop this culture from destroying what is left of the real world.
Some Example Questions
- We live in a culture where more people get their news from one social media website (usually Facebook) than any other source, including TV. Putting aside the effects of the Filter Bubble for the moment, where information streams are tailored and edited for each individual, what consequences does using only one source of news have on shaping and sustaining a certain worldview? What does this mean for society?
- Reconsider the above question factoring in the effects of the Filter Bubble, where information experiences are manipulated and customised for each individual. Does this widespread effect on the way we each perceive and understand the world change your answer? If so, how? Why do you answer the way you do?
- Computer games are consumed more than TV, radio, music and movies combined. How does this shape one’s perception and experience of the world?
- How many machines are within 20 metres of you? With how many machines do you have a daily relationship? How many machines do you see right now? How many machines do you see daily? How many wild animals are within 20 metres of you? With how many wild animals do you have a daily relationship? How many wild animals do you see right now? How many wild animals do you see daily?
- Do you touch plastic or human flesh more often?
- Has technology done more harm or good for human life? For life in general? And what measures do you use to determine your answer?
- Do you believe that high technology is neutral (do you believe any technology is neutral)? Why do you believe as you do?
- Do you believe that the primary function of technology in this culture (in any culture?) is to leverage power? Why or why not?
- Do governments better serve corporations or living human beings? What are the implications of your answer?
- If you had to make a choice, would you rather the world have ice caps and polar bears, or screen culture and more broadly the industrial oil-based economy?
- Look around the room. Do you know how to make any of the objects you see? Do you know who made them? Did you make any of them?
- If you’re in front of a computer, could you make your computer from scratch? What does this mean? How are we beholden to these objects?
- Do you get enough sleep? Why or why not?
- Do you get to dream enough? Why or why not?
- How often do you hear silence? For how long at one stretch? Is that not enough, enough, or too much?
- When was the last time you spent all day and all night without a watch or clock, not knowing (or caring) what time the clock said it was?
- Activist and author Claude Alvares wrote, “Science and technology constitute two major oppressions of our time. Yet, if one goes by the literature, not only are science and technology seen as liberators (either from superstition, fear or material deprivation and want), those who control and direct them (technocrats, industrialists, statists) are seen as liberators too.” What do you think about this? Is this a problem? Why or why not?
- The policy of the Catholic Church has been and continues to be “Nulla salus extra ecclesium,” which means “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” What do you think of this? What are the implications? What do you think about the following statements? “Outside Science there is no knowledge,” or “Outside Technology there is no comfort,” or “Outside Capitalism there are no economic transactions,” or “Outside Industrial Civilisation there is no humanity,” or “Outside the Panopticon there is no security.” For each, do you agree or disagree? What are the implications of each?
- Is the technoculture like a “cult,” as in, if you’re not part of it, you “just don’t get it”? Why or why not?
- Do you have a mobile phone? If yes, how would your life be different without it? If no, how would your life be different with it? What are the forces that encouraged (or would encourage) you to get a phone and be part of the culture?
- Philosopher and activist Jerry Mander wrote, “As recently as two decades ago, it was possible to speak about different parts of the planet as distinct places, separate from one another, with distinct cultures, living habits, conceptual frameworks, behaviors and power arrangements, and it was possible to speak of distinctly different geographies as well.” What do you think about the homogenisation of culture brought about by technology and corporate culture? Is it good or bad?
- Does technology exacerbate emotional numbing? If so, how have you noticed this in your own life? Why do you answer the way you do?
- Has technology done more harm or good for human life? For non-human life? For life in general? What measures do you use to determine your answer?
- Consider the following: “A byproduct of aggression is paranoia, because you fear that others are as aggressive as you are, which leads to an obsession with control (power over others) and security (protection of self).” Do you agree or disagree? Why do you answer as you do? Do you consider yourself aggressive? Is this good or bad? Do you consider this culture to be aggressive and paranoid? Is this good or bad?
- Sociologist Max Weber wrote, “Rational calculation reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself into a somewhat bigger cog.” Does this sound familiar, or not? Do you wish to be a bigger cog? Is that a good thing?
- Max Weber: “From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings.” Is this a good thing? Why or why not?
- Max Weber: “It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones. This passion for bureaucracy is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics we were to deliberately become men who need ‘order’ and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life.” How can we stop these bureaucracies?
- Would you agree that the technologies this culture creates mirror our collective psyche? If so, can you name some technologies and say what they teach us about our cultural psyche?
- A single nuclear weapon can kill thousands of people in an instant and irradiate the world for thousands of years. What kind of cultural psyche would create such a technology?
- Nuclear weapons lead to an international arms race. The same can be said of surveillance technologies or computers in general. What other examples can you find of technologies which emerge from and lead to escalation?
- Would you agree or disagree that we have for the most part surrendered control over our lives—and over our survival, and the survival of most of the planet—to the machines created by a mechanistic way of seeing the world? Why do you answer as you do?
- Is “technological progress” a good thing? Why or why not?
- Sociologist George Ritzer said, “No characteristic of rationalization is more inimical to enchantment than predictability. All of these enchanted experiences of magic, fantasy, or dream are almost by definition unpredictable. As for the other characteristics of rationalized systems, control and nonhuman technologies are absolutely inimical to any feeling of enchantment. Fantasy, dreams, and so on cannot be subjected to external controls; indeed, autonomy is much of what gives them their enchanted quality.” Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? In either case, what does this mean for your own life, and how does it affect you?
- How do machines and a technoculture make the world more predictable and controlled rather than enchanting and free?
- What, if anything, is wrong with a utilitarian worldview (that is, perceiving others through the lens of their usefulness to you)?
- Consider the following sentences: The assembly line mass murder of the Holocaust is production stripped of the veneer of economics. It is the very essence of production. It took the living and converted them to the dead. That’s what this culture does. It was efficient, it was calculable, it was predictable, and it was controlled through nonhuman technologies.” Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? What are the implications of this?
- The Nazis used a Hollerith machine, a very basic computer made by IBM, to tabulate their datasets. Today’s pervasive technoculture of surveillance is a huge resource for those in power in comparison. Transposing the history of the Nazis and their use of personal data to the present, how could today’s technoculture help a similar regime be more terrifying? How could today’s technoculture help a similar regime emerge?
- What level of repression do you think Hitler could have achieved with modern surveillance and propaganda technologies? What if Hitler would have had a modern nuclear arsenal? Access to modern biological warfare stocks?
- Philosopher Stanley Aronowitz wrote, “The point of science [and digital technologies]—and this may or may not be true of individual scientists [or technologists]—is to make the world subject to human domination. If they can abstract, and then they can predict on the basis of that abstraction, then they can try, at both the human and natural levels, to use that prediction in order to exert control.” What do you think about this? Do you agree or disagree? If you agree, do you think this is acceptable? If not, what are you going to do about it?
- Consider the following description of the values and consequences of modern society: “The global economy trumps local subsistence ecology. Science trumps place-and myth-based culture and spirituality. Money trumps common sense as well as ethics. Science pushes us to try to know everything. The earth is losing its wild places and wild people. Technological research is driven by the military/security apparatus, and public universities are dominated by military-related funding. National security is trumpeted as a criteria for relating to the peoples of the world. Communities have no say in what factories will be built in their towns, or what chemicals will be dumped into their drinking water. This isn’t science fiction. This is your world.” Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? What are the implications of all of this?
- American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow claimed in 1957 that “if television and radio are to be used to entertain all of the people all of the time, then we have come perilously close to discovering the real opiate of the people.”
- Why are machines more efficient than living beings? After you answer, consider the following, and answer again: “Why are machines more efficient than living beings? Because machines do not give back. All living beings understand that they must give back to their surroundings as much as they take. If they do not, they will destroy their surroundings. By definition, machines—and people and cultures that have turned themselves into machines—do not give back. They use. And they use up. This gives them short-term advantages in power over, the ability to determine outcomes. They outcompete. They overwhelm. They destroy.” Do you agree or disagree? Why do you answer as you do?
- Consider the following: “It is more difficult by far to control diverse beings than it is to control objects that are all alike. If control is important to you, diversity must be destroyed. All cultures serving gods besides production—death—must be destroyed. All languages that do not serve this end must be forgotten. All creatures we can’t use must be eliminated. All people must be standardised as well. (What do you think schooling is for?) One religion. One way of knowing the world. One economic system. One way of living on the land. If this language seems too strong to you, look around and ask what is happening to cultural diversity, to diversity of languages, to biodiversity, to all forms of diversity. They’re disappearing.” Do you agree or disagree? Why do you answer as you do?
- What is more important to you than money? What is less important to you than money? If your answer were determined not by your words but by your actions, would your answer seem different?
- What would happen if we rejected the myth of the machine, and the machine itself?
- What is the relationship, if any, between personal lifestyle choices and social change? In other words, do you believe that changing your lifestyle leads to significant changes in the larger culture?
- What is your threshold in which the ‘creepiness level’ of technology is reached for you? When your TV spies on you just like Orwell’s telescreens? When Amazon Echo or Google Home has microphones through your house listening in to and recording your private conversations at every moment? When Google drives cars down the street photographing you and your house and uploads the pictures to the Internet without asking you first? When computers can read your own thoughts?
- What is your threshold at which you’ll take a stand?
- What is happiness?
- How do you want to live? What are you going to do to achieve this?
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Some example questions above are based on, and/or inspired by content from Derrick Jensen’s Endgame Questions.