Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Technology Disappointment

In yesterday's post, pay special attention to this quote: "Sweden often stuns first-time visitors with its laid-back prosperity, making foreigners wonder how it is possible to have both lots of money and lots of leisure. Part of the answer, according to economists, is a productive and well-educated workforce that adapts to new technologies quicker than most."

So, according to economists (the high priests themselves), by having advanced technology and becoming highly productive at adapting to it, we can have high living standards while also having abundant leisure time.

So why is that, even as we are told about all the miracle technologies that will revolutionize the economy and save us from ourselves, we are simultaneously told that we must continue to work 40 hours or face penury? And how come those who work most closely with technology are working the most of all? Do I sense a contradiction in the religion known as economics?

This long, rather rambling article wonders that, too: 50 years ago, the World's Fair promised a life of leisure. We're still waiting (BoingBoing)
“I’m thrilled with my new dishwasher,” proclaims Sarah, the mother of the family.  Freed of yet another household chore by automation, she now has more time to join “garden club, a literary society, a ladies bowling league.” Husband John enjoys a similar boon of free time, thanks to modernity. All the while, the animatrons urge members of the audience to join them as they break into song, belting out the ride’s theme, “It’s a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow” – the melody sounds a bit like It’s a Small World. Millions left the ride humming the catchy tune, convinced that innovation and ambitious corporations were going to fill our lives with leisure time and pleasure.

Where did it all go so wrong?

It took labor unions hundreds of years to get workers nights and weekends off; smartphones have taken them away in less than a decade.

There are hundreds of studies describing America’s epidemic of overwork, the end of free nights and weekends, the constant stress brought on by digital umbilical cords, the constant interruptions from email, voicemail, instant messages, tweets, Snapchats.   Smartphone users check their e-mail 150 times every day, according to industry research. Workers recently told researchers that 50 percent are expected to check their e-mail on weekends, and 34 percent while on vacation. No matter on that last point: Most Americans fail to take their meager allotment of vacation anyway.

Meanwhile, Americans seem to think they like this. A Gallup poll released this month found that employees who check email outside of work are 25 percent more likely to say they experienced a lot of stress yesterday, yet by about the same margin, they are likely to describe themselves as “thriving.” Yep – many Americans seem to think stress is good for them.

While the vacation problem is distinctly Americans – EU residents are entitled to at least four paid weeks annually – concerns about the always-on life have spread around the globe. Quietly, an epidemic sometimes called “binge working” has caused young employees to drop dead on the job after working more than 30 hours at a time, and caused so much concern that European nations are passing laws trying to outlaw after-hours email. Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch publicly mandated young workers take at least four days off per month after a British banker died from binge working.

See, it is a small world after all.

Even if overwork isn’t killing you, it’s almost certainly hurting you. The American Journal of Epidemiology summarized work and health risk research recently and published this list of horribles: “Long working hours have been found to be associated with cardiovascular and immunologic reactions, reduced sleep duration, unhealthy lifestyle, and adverse health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, subjective health complaints, fatigue, and depression.”

Technology encourages overwork, but it also adds to the stress. It’s a joke, but it’s not – your computer knows precisely when you have an important meeting, and will crash precisely when you can least afford the time it takes to reboot. The cell phone battery, the word processing software, the TV remote – they are all out to get us. ..

When gadgets let us down, you see, the anger is primal. Perhaps it’s because Walt Disney promised us all those years ago how much better tech would make the world.  Or perhaps we are overly optimistic ourselves – after all, whose fault is it that you only had 30 seconds to print a copy of that meeting agenda that won’t print? Not long ago, you would have left 20 minutes to use carbon paper in a typewriter to make a copy.  Setting aside the blame game for now, witty web commenters use a catchy name, a meme, for these technoflubs: EPIC FAIL. The term needs little explanation, but it’s sort of the slapstick humor of the digital age. The way audiences guffawed at Mo, Larry, and Curly running into each other during the black and white era, email users now belly laugh when there’s YouTube evidence of a virtual Lucy pulling the ball away from an innocent Charlie Brown at just the right (wrong) moment.  It’s only funny because we have all been Charlie Brown.

The biggest EPIC FAIL of all is the invention that might some day be dubbed humanity’s crowning achievement by historians: The Internet.

At the height of the housing-fueled gold rush, and not long after the dot-com boom and bust, Macleans magazine writer Steve Maich wrote an anti-technology screed that wasn’t a direct attack on Walt Disney and the 1964 World’s Fair, but it might well have been.

“The idealists who conceived and pioneered the Web described a kind of enlightened utopia built on mutual understanding, a world in which knowledge is limited only by one's curiosity,” he wrote. “Instead, we have constructed a virtual Wild West, where the masses indulge their darkest vices, pirates of all kinds troll for victims, and the rest of us have come to accept that cyberspace isn't the kind of place you'd want to raise your kids. The great multinational exchange of ideas and goodwill has devolved into a food fight. And the virtual marketplace is a great place to get robbed. The answers to the great questions of our world may be out there somewhere, but finding them will require you to first wade through an ocean of misinformation, trivia and sludge. We have been sold a bill of goods. We're paying for it through automatic monthly withdrawals from our PayPal accounts. Let's put this in terms crude enough for all cyber-dwellers to grasp. The Internet sucks.”
I'm beginning to come around more and more to that last point. Supposedly the Internet would change everything, but more and more it's making us either work harder, or put us out of work completely, while giving ridiculous sums to a new aristocracy which seems to be embracing social Darwinism. Meanwhile, this technology means we are now spied upon and tracked 24 hours a day. And in many countries, the government already controls what everyone sees and hears.

The Internet is in the hands of a few large corporations (Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.) The most visited sites are all owned by corporate media conglomerates (CNN, FOX, etc.), and the funding comes from ever more intrusive and insidious ways to sell us shit we don't need. Oh, and your computer is probably already home to viruses, botnets, spyware, Trojan horses, and a million other pieces of software that are cleaning out your bank account right now. We don't even own our own computers anymore! For example, see this: Everything Is Broken (Medium)

Name me one instance where the Internet has made a real and lasting difference in changing the power structure. Even in the so-called "Twitter revolutions," the oligarchy quickly reasserted itself in a different form, calmed things down, and Internet freedom was permanently curtailed. If the Internet ever became a real threat to the status quo here in the United States, make no mistake, those controls would be here as well in a heartbeat (if they aren't already). More and more, the Internet seems to be yet another distraction to keep the masses pacified and complacent, just like all the other types of media.

And finally, General Motors, one of the world's largest manufacturers, just recalled millions of cars for being unsafe. And yet people think we're going to upload our consciousness into computers in the next twenty years? And who do you think is going to be designing the benevolent microchips and computers were all going embed into our brains and flesh? Corporations, that's who. They've been making cars for a hundred years now and they can't get it right, what makes people think it's going to be different with even more advanced technology?

1 comment:

  1. Oh now, don't be too jaded, the Internet may empower the "Elite" but it also empowers those that want to create meaningful change too.

    An extra long article about the coming "anarchy" ...

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10881213/The-coming-digital-anarchy.html

    (I know, The Telegraph)

    Don't focus solely on "Bitcoin" focus on the technology that created it ... the blockchain.

    It's only the beginning.

    Protomail, Voycee.me, etc... along with those mentioned in the article are just a start. (it's finally time someone wrote about it all, but I wish it wasn't the Telegraph)

    ReplyDelete

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