What is life doing to all of us? Posted on January 16, 2003 by Elaine On Blog Sisters, Jennifer Balderama wonders what she
Years ago (although it was already somewhat dated by then), I read Zuboff’s 1988 book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. Since this is intercession, I took some time to “hunt” for my notes on the book.
This was an interesting exercise in itself; packrat that I am, I have boxes and boxes of old diskettes, and a couple of PC relics, where those writings could be.
Paper, supposed to be too impermanent in this digital age, came through in the end. After snapping an endless number of diskettes in A:>, and scanning a few C:>s, there under my desk, in a dusty box of graduate school work, was the print-out.
“Re – Zuboff. What a great book! So interesting. I’m intrigued by her idea that manual labor has no value because we reject things that are physical in nature. Does seem to be true, what with our deoderant loving society. On the other hand, physical labor does have some status to country folks. Not, of course, if you’re talking about coal mining, but in some places, the idea of the independent contractor or small business owner has higher value than being a ‘wage slave’ for a big corporation…
I think the information age is only good for education if we keep reminding ourselves that the machines are merely tools. This is one area I disagree with Zuboff about, even today, when technology’s power is increasing. I wonder if it would always have seemed so, to a spectator in a crowd watching the first steam locomotive.”
One of the things Zuboff’s new book points out is what a very different paradigm from the Industrial Age we’re confronting. The invention of the steam engine, the motor car etc. all resulted in more jobs — manufacturing jobs, management jobs, supervisory jobs. Our age of smart machine technology is having the very opposite effect. But, as far as I’ve gotten in her book, she hasn’t (yet?) really confront that fact. I just don’t think that the world’s best thinkers have given enough thought to the implications for society of there not being enough jobs. Having been addicted to reading social science fiction since high school, I’ve been imaginatively transported into various permutations of the kinds of future societies in which there are too many people and not enough resources of any kind, where technology negates opportunities for humans to work, even though humans need to earn a living. I guess that’s why the points Rifkin makes seem so important to me. If we move toward some sort of socialist regime in which our basic needs are taken care of by government so that we don’t have to pay for food, clothing, and shelter, then what? In some sense, that’s where I am: I get money every month and no longer have to work. I can take care of my mother, do my knitting and sewing, read, write, tend my garden, sit around and think, etc. etc. But I doubt if a multitude of people would find that kind of life enough, especially if they were half my age.
I remember reading somewhere that there are two things that one must have to live a satisfactory life: meaningful work and a meaningful relationship. Depending how I look at it, I either have both or neither.
Are smart machines and sophisticated technologies making it harder for humans to have either? Or are they changing the nature of both, and, if so, into what? Will it be better or worse or just different? Is there something we should be doing to make sure it’s not worse?
Maybe I need to get a job so that I don’t have the time to think so much. Except, of course, there are other people out there who need that job a lot more than I do.
How’s lunch on campus sound? Noon Tuesday – 1/28 – Patroon Room?
Gina — Let’s pencil that in. My former office from State Ed called to see if I would come in and meet with a task force that is trying to continue on where I left off on a project. They need to pick my brain (what’s left of it) and I gave them that date as one on which I’d be available. I should hear from them soon and let you know. Where’s the closest place for me to park near the Campus Center?
Sounds good. I think parking is best in the Visitor’s lot near the Circle in front of the podium – but let me check & let you know. It’s not a terrible walk (but I’m not the best one to ask as I don’t drive). If it isn’t warmer by then a delay might be wise…