Simple sustainable technologies focused on humans

Technology and capitalism

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This is an attempt to trace the emergence of non-humane technologies in the context of capitalism. When I talk about capitalism, I won’t be talking just about the political system and its characteristics such as the practice of free trade, the idea that the market regulates itself etc. Rather, I will talk about the social structure which enables this system to exist (talking about just the political system in isolation would be incomplete and, in most cases, decebtful.)

What does that have to do with technology? We will see later (much later, you’ll have to read the whole chapter.) But also note that social structures are also technologies, and very important ones at that.

“We, capable, led by the incompetent, are doing the impossible for the sake of the ungrateful. And we have done so much, for so long, with so little, that we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

Konstantin Josef Jireček

Social structures, past and present.

What do I mean by a social structure? For me it consists of three main elements which play along in order to keep the status quo:

The ruling class itself can help the mediators but it cannot do their job, by itself. Seeing the ruling class trying to take upon the role of the mediators is a sure sign that their actions are not really justifiable by the mythos. In other words, society has a problem which, although the ruling class would try to convince you that it can be solved by hiring and firing a few of its members, is really an indicator that the days of the political system, and even the mythos, are numbered. Along this line of thinking, we may deem the mediators the most important element of a social structure - and bad ruler can always be replaced, but if there are no people who are willing to support the system, the whole runing class is powerless.


Let’s test our little theory by examining monarchy - a social structure which is obsolete enough for us to have an unbiased perspective of it.

As simple and rudimentary this system was, it did work at many times and places. Its success is, for me, a testament to the fact that a system does not have to be complex in order to “work”. The most important factor is probably the good balance between the ruling class and the mediators, i.e. having a clergy who has high morale and cares about the people.


What came after monarchy is the idea of a secular state and of democracy. Again, we will start with the mythos, which, as that the monarchy mythos, may seem surprising to us, but for different reasons.

It is hard to criticize democracy, as it looks like (and probably is) exactly like the social structure that we should be uniting ourselves around, but when comparing it with monarchy, we can see one fatal flaw - democracy is incomplete. In particular, its mythos lacks a firm ideological grounds. While monarchy always rests on the firm ideology of a religion, democracy just allows everyone to follow their own doctrines and does not give a direction as to how a state should function. Under democracy, we agree on what is good, but not on what is right for us. It does not tell us why are we together which, as obsolete as it sounds, is absolutely instrumental for having a functional society.

An example of societies without a firm ideology are the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century, like the Third Reich. Although the leaders of such regimes talk about ideology all the time, their “ideology” consists of just a couple of slogans, whose constant repetition cannot make up for their insubstantiality, nor can the criminalization of their criticism make up for their many inconsistencies.

A social structure and its ideology are not only related - they are the same thing, just as “the medium is the message”, as McLuhan says. A new ideology can easily drive a change in the social structure and the lack of a proper social structure could immediately make an ideology obsolete. In other words, if we want to have a functional society, we have the have an ideology.

Capitalism - democracy’s bastard child

I would call the current ideology which supplements our democratic society capitalism (or “consumerism” in order to differentiate it from the purely economic aspect of the former term). In terms of economy, capitalism is just the ability of people to own and trade goods freely - something a form of which existed for centuries. In terms of ideology, I’d say it is characterized with the practice of putting a price tag on everything, as the ultimate merit of value. This precisely where the story of non-humane technologies start, but in order to understand what exactly happened, we have to examine how did it evolve to the form in which it did.

The process of forming a new ideology after the decline of aristocracy wasn’t a straightforward one - people did not overthrow monarchy for ideological, but for economical reasons. They were still accepting many of the Christian values, but they weren’t ready to wait until they die for a better life - they wanted that better life ASAP.

Capitalism uses democracy’s social framework to create the social structure that we know today.

And people are kept obedient to the state not by an army, but by their addiction to all the different commodities which the structure provides them with.

The role of technology under capitalism

Technology was always made to service the needs of humans, but in capitalism it’s role is different, because technology is part of the mythos of the social system. While before, technology was seen as just means for achieving a given end, now it constitutes an end to itself it is the engine for propelling economic growth. As a result of that, people now are trying to invent new technologies all the time, and to use technology for solving non-technological issues. Such practices are catalyst for the development of non-humane technologies.

The rise of non-humane technologies

In the same way in which (as per the old journalist joke) the important events that happen on a given day are just enough to fill the pages of a newspaper, huge tech companies seem to come up with new improved products exactly once or twice per year. That happens always. At no point did Tim Cook, opened the Apple keynote with “Sorry guys, we developed nothing new this year, hopefully we will think of something next time.”

So, while tech companies do come up with ways to improve our lives once in a while, what they ship at the other time are either pure gimmicks, or products and features that would benefit them as an organization at the expense of their users.

This is what we can call a non-human technology, one that does little to improve the lives of the organization’s clients (actual humans), but does a lot to advance the business of the organization that sells the product.

Non-human technologies range from, gimmicks - useless features that are just there to convince you to buy the new version of the product, to features that might be harmful for you, but they will better the organization’s position in the market. Such technologies (non-humane) are now the main driver of economic growth, which is no wonder as they are designed to trigger economic growth.

A simple example, that pops to mind right now is the ability to pay on ATM’s using your phone of smartwatch - this technology doesn’t improve your life in any way, (remember how we had to carry those heavy credit cards around whenever we went), but quite the reverse - it locks you to using specific smartphones and specific payment platforms.

But users would buy the new product, simply because it is new, simply for the sake of participating, simply because this is the way to go.


It may look hard to categorize each technology as humane and which is non-humane, and doing so is not the point of this. But it’s worth it to think about it. For example, technology that saves energy is clearly good, and technologies that can disappear without causing any significant distress to us are not.

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