Breaking through the illusion of convenience that's used to sell us automation
Phenomenal piece. I love your point that technology does not liberate us rather propagates around us and forces us to keep up. The problems (mental, physical etc) that this causes will also have their technical solutions e.g. counselling via apps and perhaps even transhumanistic physical alterations to enhance one's capacities for speed (if we look into the future and if Musk gets his way with Neurolink)
I was reading Ellul (The Technological Society) today and he makes a similar point to you: "man is only a machine for production and consumption. He is under obligation to produce. He is under the same obligation to consume. He must absorb what the economy offers him." - and now we are told to do these things at a rate that Ellul could only have dreamed of (but probably foresaw!).
Great article, Brett. You touch on some important points around sustainability. If we accept that a growth-based economy is inherently unsustainable, it makes the loss of physical currency a real concern - there's no better way to lock ourselves in a system than leave ourselves with no way to operate outside of it! Thanks, Brett, for continuing the fight for the bicycle :)
Brett Scott aptly describes the New World Order of neoliberal capitalism with its intendant consumerism and thirst for transactions. The best foot forward is to repudiate this system from top to bottom.
I am reminded of the meal chants in American Zen temples, zendos, and monasteries: "Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them." As Mr Foote points out, we don't need all this stuff; not only is it damaging to spiritual health, it is materially too expensive. We cannot afford it.
In regard to digital cash, the crux is who owns the system, just as with robots and AI. In private, profit-seeking, rent-seeking hands, digital cash spells disaster. In public hands as in China, digital cash is an economical and convenient alternative.
Buddhists are not communists, but we live as communists and see that a system built on socialist principles reduces human suffering. With a few tweaks, socialism can reduce environmental suffering as well.
technology, ex. a dishwashers, does not actually save time; instead they accelerate life, they raise the societal standard, and everyone grows more impatient.
a technology crosses a threshold where it is widely distributed and people start to assume that a you use it too
Brilliant analysis! I fundamentally disagree that profit incentives are bad for us though. Retrospectively it’s clearly created the most opportunity, fairest political systems and lifted the most people out poverty in human history. Of course it has flaws, major ones like those which you’ve pointed out. Especially the inability to slow down. But this, like most other critiques of capitalism, fails to address (until the very end when you spoke about Zen) that in the end we do have control over our lives. Today, people are incapable of contending with their fears and feelings because they are bombarded by attention grabbing marketing machines (like you said). In my opinion, that’s not capitalism, that’s a failure on the part of the government meant to protect us. Entertain the idea where marketing is held in check or even outright eliminated on social media and then what? Marketing is not capitalism, it’s scamming wrapped in a bow. True capitalism relies on people to make their own judgments about the usefulness of anything based on their lived experiences. Marketing hijacks this like a parasite. Who is the government though? Well it’s us. At the end of the day I believe if we really want to see change then a coordinated effort against marketing OR like you said, a cultural change towards non duality and a reclaiming of spirituality might do the trick too. How is that even possible (the former not the latter)? I don’t know but I think it’s certainly worth exploring.
"... anything accept accumulation and profit..." --> "... anything except accumulation and profit..."
Provocative article. I definitely think quality and purpose of technology is hardly ever given due enough consideration. Capitalism sure does seem to promote, "Make it flashy, whatever the heck it is, then try to convince people to use it." - actually under the surface not "convince people to use it," just "convince people to buy it".
This actually reminds me strongly of something I read about in the opening chapter of "How everything can collapse" by Savigne/Stevens ( ➜ https://www.wiley.com/en-us/How+Everything+Can+Collapse%3A+A+Manual+for+our+Times-p-9781509541393). They mention German philosoph Hartmut Rosa who noticed three types of acceleration in our lives:
1. Technical acceleration (travel, communication etc.) which decreases distance.
2. Acceleration of social change (new neighbours, more sexual partners, more jobs in our lifetimes, faster fashion cycles, changing cars, music etc. more often) which decreases the present.
3. Acceleration of our life rhythm: as we answer 1 and 2, we try to live faster (being more efficient, using every minute, buying ever more products), which decreases time for us.
What do we get out of that? Less time for being happy, burnout, endemic depression, more drugs etc.
This is the most articulate piece I’ve read in defining the growth trap. I will be sharing it widely. Many thanks!
You put words to a feeling I’ve had for a while. Feels like the more faster stuff we have the less time we have to do something with it.
I wish London would chill out :( Even the pubs are now cashless 'for the safety of our staff' which three years ago meant SARSCOVI2 airborne germs ... No clue what it means now, that cash is a mugging hazard ? Anyway thanks Brett, great article
Holy shit Brett. You captivated me with this article. Well done, on so many levels. Not the least of which is my attention. I have much to think over here. And it all makes sense
As you are working on the defensive cash, my tack is different though this is very relatable. I am working on Intimacy, and sensual sexual expression in the world. In the same ways of automation making our lives easier, I’m looking at the application of sexual education by a system of patriarchal religions that have asserted a moral supremacy about who we can fuck, and why we fuck, and what is appropriate and what isn’t. I’m looking at the birth of pornography as a step child of a corrupt moral Powerhouse that has remain unchecked, because it went to bed with capitalism early on and colonize the world with its evangelical capitalistic endeavors.
Yet I know we are made for more. The efficiency for the dating and sex apps for a quick suck and fuck, has removed much of the very tangible reasons why we enjoy sex. The emotional and spiritual connection in at all, the reverence of acknowledging beauty in the world. The people I encounter as I sort how I engage my sexual expression in the world, seem bereft of understanding what has been lost, the beauty of honoring micro consent and listening to the body for pleasure that makes us glad to be alive. The culture of shame and fear that was bred by patriarchal religion in an attempt to gain power, control and conformity, is a massive factor for us to contend with as humanity.
I was well ensconced in the patriarchal religious system as a priest and rogue bishop who questioned the system. Now I am writing about regenerative intimacy and trying to salvage some thing that is honorable, something potent that has the ability to help us feel glad to be alive in the world. Fighting the current of isolation, separation and scarcity… Which are all factors both in regular life and consuming products in the world as well as our intimate sensual encounters with one another.
I do not know if any of this makes sense, yet it has been helpful for me to read your words about your very important topic, which impacts us all. And I believe the topic I am engaging, and shed many tears over, impacts us all deeply as well.
I welcome any thoughts you might have. Good on you for doing this article. I am deeply moved and motivated towards my own sense of purpose. Keep standing for what you believe in Brother. May we all do this, and be willing to be misunderstood for it. Honor still exists. There is reverence in engaging it.
Brilliant. I cannot say more, because I need to get off my smartphone now.
Fantastic, in-depth post tackling the many different facets of the same phenomenon. I am reminded of how I've seen supermarkets introduce automated registers for which you need to scan everything yourself, simultaneously scale down the numbers of staffed registers operating, which means that going to the latter will always be more inconvenient (even though you are now doing the work of scanning groceries that they used to pay people for). Then that was used as a justification for expanding automated registers, because so many people were 'choosing' to use it. Similar claims are made for cashless payments, they use statistics about how more and more people pay this way, making it feel like the unstoppable march of progress, while you're basically increasingly forced into doing it by your environment. There was this recent study into Dutch ATMs, which have radically been reduced in number in recent years, that concluded that quite a few of them are regularly out of order, sometimes for weeks.
An argument well-stated. I am an avid-bicyclist, and may soon become a fierce defender of physical cash. Cheers.
- wondering this is somehow related to another recently popular essay on the 'tyranny of the marginal user'
- another way to look at it is; besides convenience - it probably can be said that 'simplification' in the name of conveneice is quite dangerous
While this (well written piece) articulates a valid concern regarding technology's penchant for inducing a "more, faster" ethos, it's crucial to balance this view with the substantial advantages technology imparts. Starting with transportation, an area Scott touches on, the leap from a world where stepping out could mean a dangerous encounter with a venomous creature or a predatory animal, to one where vehicles shield us from such perils is colossal. The analogy here is akin to choosing between a hazardous trek through a jungle versus a secure drive in a fortified vehicle. The time saved and the risks mitigated are immense.
Moreover, the domain of modern medicine has transitioned us from a reality where common ailments could be life-threatening, to a realm where medical interventions and drugs combat such threats effectively. Imagine a scenario where a mere toothache could lead to fatal infections, contrasted with today’s quick dental appointments and antibiotics that nip the problem in the bud.
On the communication front, the ability to instantly connect with loved ones across continents is a significant uplift. The thought of having to pen down letters, send them through a snail mail system, and wait for weeks or even months for a response is a clear downgrade from the instantaneous calls or video chats we can have today. Similarly, the accessibility to long-distance travel via airplanes has turned what could have been perilous, lengthy sea voyages into manageable, hours-long flights. My mother, residing in a different continent, is now merely a flight away as opposed to an arduous maritime journey of yesteryears.
The digital sphere has also revolutionized work dynamics. Particularly, the advent of decentralized digital currencies has created a financial ecosystem unbounded by geographical or governmental constraints. Personally, the ability to transact and be remunerated by anyone, anywhere, has been a game-changer in my career trajectory. The absence of this digital financial infrastructure would have left me at the mercy of localized economic limitations and governmental financial mismanagement. While I resonate with Scott's motivation for championing cash due to its tangible, autonomous nature, my preference leans towards cryptocurrencies due to their borderless nature, which eclipses the physical limitations intrinsic to cash.
Indeed, the issues of information overload and the relentless drive for “more” highlighted by Scott are points of concern. The difficulty in opting out from this accelerated pace set by technological advancements is a challenge that requires systemic addressing. Nonetheless, the positive impact of technology in enhancing our mobility, health, communication, and financial freedom cannot be understated.
The world has been capitalist and "bad" for quite a while, though I must say I'd choose being able to fly the world, battling a twitter addiction while working from a desk vs being a caveman or like needing to journey for a year on a horse to understand/see something about the world.
Tldr - the world still kind of sucks but it sucked more without the Internet et al.