"servers, sewers, alienation"
November 21, 2022 12:40 PM   Subscribe

 
As so often happens, I'm about halfway through, but must comment about how much I'm enjoying this.
People talk endlessly about how technology-these-days alienates us from $IMPORTANT_HUMAN_VALUE. They build this discourse on the kind of mushy definition of “technology” that boils down to “things that didn’t exist when my grandparents were growing up.” “Things I can imagine living without”. This produces predictably mushy results.

You know what kinds of things count as technology among the people who are serious about its study? Clothing. Writing. Usefully shaped rocks. I went into this let’s-think-critically-about-technology business with the gusto you’d expect of a would-have-been philosophy major who found herself with a computer science degree, but I have Had Enough with critiques of technology that rely on your not remembering to apply them to, say, fire. Enough I Say.
Reminds me of something Ursula K. LeGuin wrote (which I can't actually find to quote properly) about how many scholars act as if early civilizations didn't have technology - as if pots grew on trees.

And I quite enjoyed the Teddy Roosevelt section as well.

This is all quite wonderful, and I'm wishing I could find more photos of the Haus ("We bought a house in the country, recently"), and I am now very much interested in reading much more from maya.land.

Thank you so much for posting this, brainwane! It's wonderful.
posted by kristi at 1:23 PM on November 21 [4 favorites]


People talk endlessly about how technology-these-days alienates us from $IMPORTANT_HUMAN_VALUE. They build this discourse on the kind of mushy definition of “technology” that boils down to “things that didn’t exist when my grandparents were growing up.” “Things I can imagine living without”. This produces predictably mushy results.

My parents were recently grousing about how lazy it is to do grocery pick-up, or god forbid, delivery. And that people relied too much on technology rather than shopping like they always have.

I agreed with them, and also complimented them on the fact that mom built all of the clothes herself, crafting the fabric on a loom, while dad mowed the lawn with a scythe, rather than a lawn mower. Because we sure as heck don't want to use technology to make things easier for people.

People complain about tech that was created after they were born, but never the stuff they grew up with.
posted by nushustu at 2:03 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]


It's an interesting question, what's really meant by "transparency" in tech; it could be taken to mean "something that's no longer really thought about," which applies to stuff that you no longer have to think about or pay that much attention to in order to use, even if you had to at first. Transparency is stated as the principle behind the Macintosh, for example, but it was very much something that had to be thought about when the Mac first arrived; I remember reading a piece by someone who absolutely hated computer mice, because you had to take one hand off the keyboard in order to use it--he, like me, had been taught never to do that while typing, and it just bugged the hell out of him. Thing is, though, that paradigm--to keep your fingers in the home row and always return them there after hitting the keys above or below ASDFJKL;--was instilled to maximize words-per-minute in typists who were trained for output über alles, even though many of them ended up with RSI.

I guess that what I'm getting at is that sometimes I do appreciate the ability to get under the hood and tinker with whatever; it's fun and provides a little shot of accomplishment juice. But sometimes I just want stuff to work; I don't want to have to debug the toaster every time I want some toast.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:08 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


kristi, I had the same thought — it's this article, which I conveniently had in my open tabs from sending to someone a few weeks ago. Highly recommended.
posted by wesleyac at 2:52 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]


But sometimes I just want stuff to work; I don't want to have to debug the toaster every time I want some toast.

Yes.

I also think an import discussion point around technology needs to be “WHO, exactly, does it benefit?”

I am currently dealing with Big Life Changes Events and Big Fraud On My Accounts events, and I am exhausted with having to create (as of today) 9 online accounts to select manage BASIC employee payment and benefits, and 5 online accounts to investigate and manage the fraud events.

This does NOT include the additional emails I have had to send to try to get info from a couple of third-party “manage your credit all it one place!” websites that DO NOT HAVE A PHONE NUMBER LISTED FOR REPORTING POTENTIAL FRAUD. And it’s been 48 hours with no reply.

Evidently, this system of electronically outsourcing and decentralizing everything benefits someone; probably the companies involved.

And don’t get me started with the monkeywrench of two-factor-authentication, when people need to share responsibility for a lot of these tasks.

I feel like electronic technology needs to be identified and discussed as its own thing, cuz imo, it has caused in many cases unreasonable burden on the lowest of the consumer hierarchy.
posted by Silvery Fish at 2:57 PM on November 21


Silvery Fish, the Wikipedia entry on "wicked problems" casually mentions organized irresponsibility, no links, and I am finding that a very useful concept. Common also in systems where, if all parties acted scrupulously, $BADTHING wouldn't happen, but if any *two* cut corners, no-one is responsible because neither of them can be proven to be completely responsible.
posted by clew at 4:00 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]


Thank you, wesleyac! I'm so glad to have that bookmarked now.
posted by kristi at 4:59 PM on November 21


how lazy it is to do grocery pick-up, [… vs. …]mom built all of the clothes herself, crafting the fabric on a loom, while dad mowed the lawn with a scythe

But there is a difference in kind between these two things. As I understand it, grocery pickup or delivery has no systemic efficiency; it’s just a cellphone interface to asking a (gig) servant to do exactly what I would have done, plus their commute to get to my house. No less labor exerted.

Mechanizing spinning and weaving changed the total amount of labor needed to clothe people, even when you add in the enormous effort of industrialization to make and run the machines. Demand for cloth led mechanization over and over. (Push-mowers have the same relation to scythes, I think, they just aren’t as important.)
posted by clew at 11:34 AM on November 23


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