In the mid-1900s, at the dawn of the computer age, the excited commentators of the time described a future utopia where humankind would be freed from the need to work and would struggle to fill up the long days with enough time-eating hobbies.
This obviously has not happened….
Even though we, as a species, are quite comfortably the head-honchos of our planet, the majority of us humans still need to work pretty hard at it.
If you were to strip away humankind’s technological advances, human societies couldn’t compare with insect colonies’ amazing efficiency and coordination; thanks to insects’ inbuilt senses that detect tiny hormonal changes and pheromonal ejections, allowing them to perfectly synchronize their work. As a result, insect colonies can build amazing things with minimal resources.
Take away our gadgets, with our relatively blunted senses, humans can’t match the efficiency of our insect counterparts. But who needs antennae when we’ve got brains that can invent wrist watches and Gantt charts?
With the human invention of modern time measurement, we enabled our species to plan and build grander and more intricate projects through our vastly improved synchronisation and management of resources. The invention of mechanical clocks, due to their more convenient and reliable time-keeping, effectively enabled us to pack more into every day.
I am no troglodyte – I am hugely appreciative for the advantages that science and technology have provided. I have it to thank for the Enlightenment values that I live by, my longer and healthier life, and the sense of wonder that I feel when looking up at the stars, knowing that I am staring into our Universe’s past.
But in all its wonder, science and technology has also helped things to turn a bit shit. Inventions and advancements when at inception looked certain to improve the quality of our lives have often become the tools of our captors.
The invention of the town clock tower in the 1500s, followed by the mass production of pocket watches in the early 1900s, were arguably the first steps in humankind’s transition into some kind of cybernetic state of permanent serfdom.
By tightening the synchronisation of “human resources” and increasing efficiency and thereby capital, entrepreneurs had more money to invest in crazier and riskier schemes – which ultimately drove technological innovation.
On one hand, the ability to create interesting buildings and new consumer technologies was awesome; on the other hand, the arrival of the town’s clock tower effectively gave the cruel employers and factory owners of the 1500s a new beating stick called “punctuality”.
Turning up to work 2 minutes after the seventh “gong!”, or failing to meet tough production targets based on arbitrary measures of time would result in your poor child-labourer self being beaten by the factory’s feared “overlooker”, whereas adult males (who could usually physically defend themselves against such violence) would commonly concede a day’s salary (well, that was until workers unions were invented).
Thankfully today, beating up and starving your workers is no longer seen as good for company PR, but today’s workers suffer from higher workloads, invasion of personal time and stress than ever. With increasing technology comes increasing worker demands.
With this trend in mind, in the future we might be “thanking” the nerds at Virginia Tech for this great new invention. From theVerge.com:
“Hardware chain Lowe’s is outfitting employees with a simple exoskeleton to help them on the job. The company has partnered with Virginia Tech to develop the technology, which makes lifting and moving heavy objects easier”…”The non-motorized exoskeletons are worn like a harness, with carbon fiber rods acting as artificial tendons”. The article quotes an employee who praised the harness: “It’s very smooth, and it feels like this heavy thing [they’re lifting] is much less heavy.”
While we all inevitably look forward to watching reruns of Sigorney Weaver’s launching of a bus out of an arena resembling the Tron Cycle Dome in the 2054 Cyborg Olympics; sipping on our soylent shakes, maybe, we’ll also be imagining what life was like before the exo-skeleton add ons – like the worker electric shock motivator and the urethral cathoda that replaced the toilet break.
Basically, countless examples show that greater advancements in technology have lead to more requirements on workers, including recent reports of workers working until they’re passing out at Telsa’s futuristic automotive factory.
So if you also feel a little uneasy when you read about things like virtual reality headsets, Google glass, Big Data and RFID microchip implants, you’re not necessarily being too old-school or paranoid. By becoming more integrated with and dependent on technology (or more ‘Cyborg‘ in our nature), we might be allowing our masters to demand more and more of us.