Automagic

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I wonder if we went back 150 years and looked at today what people would say we had done. The wonders of automation, and the manufacturing of things cheaply and efficiently, haven’t really played out in the progressive narrative we were told. I think it is like looking at Disney’s “World of Tomorrow,” and then looking outside and wondering where our jet-packs are.

We live now in the age of automatic everything. All of reality reduced to settings that can be tweaked, resources that can be managed, and apps wedded to a specific purpose and revenue stream. The money flows through it all like water, automatically traveling its unseen paths to the investments and holdings and control of the fortunate few. Down at dirt level, the suffering that used to be accomplished via arm twisting and snide coercion can now be done by clicking a few check boxes and pressing send.

Automatic Everything devalues human effort. The supply chain renders humans invisible. People that used to make things are now considered lucky if they can but service the equipment that makes things, and pray to understand any of it. In the far away workshops that we never see, people are serfs like they always were, slaves waiting to be replaced.

Those jobs that you’ve been promised over and over again are never coming back. They no longer exist. It doesn’t matter who you voted for.

So I am wondering what would happen if we turned a million knobs, adjusted thousands parameters, set some realistic targets and defined better deliverables if it would be possible to turn the huge engine of commerce onto a course that actually helps humans? Can we turn the Automatic away from the catastrophe that it creates?

via Daily Prompt: Automatic

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One Response to Automagic

  1. I was talking about something similar with a very bright 20-something during a conference we were attending on how to use technology to defeat the Orange Menace. He argued that automation has freed us from tedious tasks so we have more leisure time to enjoy with our friends, family and hobbies—or more time to spend being politically active. I said “leisure time” for a lot of us has meant unemployment. While I understand what he meant—I can still remember those articles from the 60s and 70s where assembly-line workers complained about how mindless and soul-crushing their days were—I don’t think our culture or economy has kept up with the pace of technology. Silicon Valley-TED talk geniuses love to crow about “disruptive technologies:” but I doubt if Uber drivers would say their lives are better on account of our ability to call them via an app on our smartphones, or cable installers and telephone workers would say the internet has made their lives easier. (Not that anyone loved cable or phone companies, or taxi drivers for that matter.) Startups talk about the importance of “failure” in learning how to succeed, but in the meantime, their employees are the ones who feel the impact the greatest when their business fails.

    And staying on the cutting edge of technology is expensive: those little pieces of glass and plastic aren’t cheap, though Apple seems to think we all want to replace our phones every year. (This tells you what silo Apple executives are operating from.) Maybe more troubling is that so many people have no idea what makes their smartphones work, or how to use coding language to hack the software on their laptops. Tech has widened the gulf between Haves and Have-Nots, not only financially but intellectually. I worry for my students from low-income households, who are already struggling with math and science. They’re not going to be working for Google or Amazon, unless they’re still hiring construction workers, custodians, clerical staff and security guards in the future. And I’m guessing they already have a gadget or app in the works to replace those.

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