Software is typically sold on the promise of increased convenience or productivity, or both. If we were to believe all the clichéd marketing lingo about time-saving, our lives would now consist largely of uninterrupted leisure time.
In a recent post, Brett Scott argues persuasively that, far from making our lives easier, technology is making them faster and more discombobulated. To understand how this shift happens, Scott tells us to look at the issue from a systemic perspective:
“We don’t just live in any economy. We live in a mega-scale corporate capitalist economy, and in such a setting technology is never used to save time. It’s used to speed up production and consumption in order to expand the system. The basic rule is this: technology doesn’t make our lives easier. It makes them faster and more crammed with stuff.”
The invention of the car is a great example because it enabled us to move greater distances at much higher speeds, but didn’t fundamentally change our experience of work. The time ‘saved’ by driving versus walking was quickly taken up by more work. Fast travel by car (a high-value consumer good) quickly became the new default.
“Los Angeles only exists in its current form because of cars, which means life will be difficult there if you don’t have one. In this scenario you’re essentially held hostage by the auto industry, whose products are the very thing that have catalysed our dependence on giant megacities. Rather than acknowledge that, we lapse into a type of Stockholm Syndrome where we choose to imagine the car as a saviour that grants us our independence in that context. In reality, the car is just a minimum requirement to scrape by in a car-catalysed environment. …”
“Each technology not only unlocks a new state of expanded acceleration (that will be hardcoded into our lives as the new basis for our survival), but will also be used as the basis for new technologies to continue that process. The vast majority of people do not experience this technology as ‘liberating’ them. Rather, they experience it as something that propagates itself around them, and something they must race to keep up with in order to not be ‘left behind’.”
The irony is that as the world around us feels hectic and more unmanageable due to technology, we turn to the very same tools for help:
“In reality, we’ll just be more burned out, which in turn will be weaponised to sell us more acceleration tech. Feeling burned out? Why not automate more? … We increasingly live a ‘just in time’ life because, at a systemic level, there’s pressure to pack in as much stuff as possible at both a consumption and production level. We’re just as dissatisfied, only busier.”
In Scott’s view, AI will have the same accelerating effect, raising employers’ productivity expectations and demanding that we all do more, faster. Because that is the gospel of innovation:
“In the mythology of Silicon Valley, and in corporate capitalism more generally, it’s believed that we expand alongside our system, and that new products are turning us into fuller expressions of ourselves. In reality, we’re biological beings with finite capacities ensnared within an economy with an acceleration drive, and its constant attempt to expand just crowds out other stuff in our lives.”
As with all systemic issues, individuals lack the agency to effectively counteract this dynamic. Still, Scott encourages us “to realise that all these things we’re told we need are just illusions generated by the numb logic of a system that cannot value anything except accumulation and profit. From that point we can strive to build balances of power to prevent the worst excesses of the situation coming out.” It’s the economy, stupid!Source: Dense Discovery