We are going to kick off this chapter with a comparison between cars and bicycles. Until about 40 years ago, cars were considered the symbol of progress and of the direction where technology is heading, and to some extend they still are, however people are becoming increasingly aware that “there is something rotten” with cars. The topic is also related to capitalism - cars wouldn’t exist without capitalism (and you might say that capitalism as we know it also depends in many ways on cars). Cars are, of course, a non-humane technology.
Here are some of the downsides of using cars:
A much better alternative to cars, especially for city commuting, are bikes:
The biggest downside of using bikes: bikers are much more affected by their environment - they cannot make due without good infrastructure - they need bike lanes, places to store their bikes etc. They have to rely on the strength of their bodies to get to where they are headed, they have to rely on other people, complete strangers to keep them safe, when riding at the street.
Unlike bikes, cars seem like a mode of transportation which generally shields its passengers from their environment: once you are in a car, you can move great distances relatively autonomously and without regard for the environment in which you are moving in. Cars give you the privilege to even ignore certain issues which you would otherwise have. You can, for example, live in a very dangerous or depressing neighborhood, but that wouldn’t make much of a difference for you if you are only traveling there by car.
But though the protection that cars provide is real, the feeling of independence that they induce is a sham - the possession of a car brings more dependencies than any other consumer product: oil companies, insurance companies, repair shops etc. all exist because of our car-related needs, needs that not only cost us a great amount of our labor to serving those organizations’ interests but, more importantly, increase amount of labor that we should perform, period.
In effect, the superficial independence which cars give us, is at the cost of a much more deeper dependence. A dependence which is not between people, but between individuals and organizations that are directly and indirectly involved in the car business. Those organizations that have an agenda on their own and ways to preserve themselves even at the cost of the well-being of their clients. This dependence, as we said is the main characteristic of technologies that are not humane, and it cannot be justified by any of the benefits that the technology brings. We will look why in the next section.
Many technologies that are not humane are justified with the following point: “Sure, I agree that tech X is unpleasant/polluting/ugly, but look how efficient it is. If we use it we would produce so much stuff/save so much time that it is worth it.”
I am not saying that this kind of thinking is always wrong, but we have to consider how the technology choices that we make influence our environment. That is, we have to consider that non-humane technologies are hostile towards humans and the environment that is shaped by such technologies is also hostile. For cars this effect is painfully obvious - the hostility of car-centered cities is well studied by people like Jan Gehl who is one of the founders of the “new urbanism” movement that advocates creating infrastructures that prioritize cyclists and pedestrians. And many other non-humane technologies, produce similar results in other respects. A world that is dominated by non-humane technologies is a non-humane world, and any superficial benefits that such technologies bring, cannot justify the damage they inflict.
If social structures are viewed as technologies, then capitalism itself can be seen as a non-humane technology by many people, so it’s no wonder that that many times people defend capitalism with the argument that I outlined above - although they find it less than favorable, they put up with it due to the benefits it brings. Here the counter-argument that I outlined above applies - the superficial benefits that are brought by capitalism in terms of efficiency cannot justify the much deeper problems that it brings (i.e. yes there is more stuff, but it is the wrong stuff.)
The fact that people find capitalism less than favorable is for me proven (ironically) by their greed and their thirst for more money money being often seen as a way to escape from all of capitalism’s dependencies. This might sound counterintuitive, as many people tell us that the people’s greed is precisely the reason capitalism works, but it is not. Example: Should you take the job that is most fit for you, or the one which pays better? Some people would try to convince you is that more money is always better by suggesting that if you make enough money you can do ‘whatever you want’”. This seems like a weird thought. Although we need money to survive, you theoretically don’t have to be rich to do what you want. Unless what you want, is to escape, to not have to participate in society, as it is organized now. Having a low-paying job that fulfills you should be completely normal in a healthy environment. In a healthy environment, everyone would already be doing what they want, because in a healthy environment, people would want to do things that are meaningful and helpful for their society. It is only people living in an unhealthy, non-humane environment who have to struggle in order to be able to do what they want. Simply because what they want is to escape from participating in this society.
We started by reviewing cars and their ability shield you from reality. This is an instance of a technology that is built to help you cope with the inhumane environment, that is created either by itself and other technologies.
For example, when you leave in a big city, you have to drive your car in order to go out of town for a few hours or days. In this instance cars provide you with a means of escape from the inhumane environment that they themselves created.
Or the problem with us having to spend more time in our cars, as cities get more car-centric, can be solved by building bigger and more comfortable cars (which will also pollute more, cost more and take more space.)
Also, I assume air conditioners would be getting more popular, as the temperatures become more and more uncomfortable due to climate change (which is caused in part by air conditioners.)
A most recent example of this phenomena is the Facebook project to create a virtual world (called the Metaverse). This is a typical escapist technology which, instead of trying to address some shortcomings of our world, seeks to replace it completely by a very bad copy of it (and one that is expensive and fragile.)
A side note - I think that the Metaverse is probably the most inhumane technology that can ever exist even more harmful that algorithmic social networks. If using a normal social network has been proven harmful and addictive by so many researches, then what will be the effects of this Metaverse to the people? The fact that nobody is asking this question tells you all you need to know about capitalism and inhumane technologies.
You can also learn a lot about inhumane technologies by examining Facebook’s internal slogan: “Move fast and break things.” In 5 words, this slogan tells us more about non-human technologies than my 500-word introduction: Do not to wait for the right technology to be developed. Do not fear the consequences of what you do. Don’t think about where exactly are you going and why. Don’t think about the long-term effects of what you do. Just “move fast and break things.”