Maud Gonne, three-quarter length oval portrait, with right hand on hip, wearing black dress and celtic brooch cropped, by J.E. Purdy

William Butler Yeats was obsessed with Maude Gonne. It’s hard to imagine/understand the milieu they moved through, cloaked in the mystique of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. But it’s easy to understand, and appropriate his caution to her:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

Yeats was rejected by Maude Gonne, repeatedly, as he proposed marriage to her across his life. Though it seems a stretch, I feel a similar relation between myself and technology. I’ve always wanted to feel closer to it, but it seems to reject me every time.

Building an electric motor, I think, from a kit
As a kid I loved building little technology-based kits. We didn’t have a lot of money, so these were usually gifts from my eldest brother at Christmas time. My parents primary gift was regular trips to the library, were I entertained myself by checking out a lot of science books (I’m of my own mystical time– we were landing on the moon and such). Science books that I found were the stuff of dreams– publications distributed at low cost to libraries published by UNESCO. Their mission in science education hasn’t changed since they were founded in 1945.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture.

The dream of a better life was always, for me, connected with the positive deployment of science and technology. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I benefited greatly from their efforts. The United States withdrew from participation in UNESCO in 1984, along with the UK and Singapore.

Why? Because the United States wanted no part of The New World Information and Communication Order. “Many Voices, One World,” a report authored by the McBride Commission was seen as a threat to freedom of the press, though it actually was more of a threat to domination of corporate media.  Sean McBride, a nobel prize winner and son of Maude Gonne, chaired the UNESCO committee responsible for the report, which counted Gabriel Garcia Marquez among its members. The phrase suggested that to cure the unbalanced flow of information between developed and undeveloped world, a new order would be necessary. Apparently, this tread on the dreams of mass media, so promoting education worldwide would have to continue without the financial support of the US and UK.

The concerns, rooted in the radical context of the 60s, over the distortions of reality inherent in the selective deployment of news and information, and possibility of the spread of outright falsehoods through limited media were remarkably prescient. It did not escape notice, also, that the entire communications infrastructure of the time was built upon the foundation of military and commercial surveillance satellites. Hannah Arendt’s 1969 proposal that “all technologies are violent” comes to mind here. The third world was getting the short end of the stick, but they would continue to attempt to address the inequalities across the 80s and 90s.

At its core, the idea of equal education and equal access to technology seems to be a good one, and eventually when the radical movement to provide this through government rather than private action was quashed at UNESCO (and, coincidentally, the Internet broke the stranglehold of mass media) the UK and the US found it safe to return financial support to UNESCO in 1997 and 2003. But the romance of technology, especially regarding “equality” seems hopelessly trampled by the march of progress.