If one doesn’t watch the introduction of new technologies and particularly watch the infrastructures that emerge, promises of liberation through technology can become a ticket to enslavement.*
If we accept behavior that’s unacceptable, we’re compromising on something that we thought was too important to compromise on. And that’s how we end up with the unacceptable becoming commonplace.**
Who’s going to gain? The advertiser says you will, but that may not be the reality.
Ursula Franklin makes the sober point that the emergence of the sewing machine promised to end “ragged and unclad humanity from every class” by women being able to make clothes at home, but the sewing machine has become the standard piece of equipment in exploitative sweatshops. Franklin has previously pointed out that the industrial revolution, promising so much required the invention of the consumer, on whom its greater and cheaper production would depend:
But once a given technology is widely accepted and standardised, the relationship between the products and the users changes. Users have less scope, they matter less, and their needs are no longer the main concern of the designers.*
Franklin’s thirty-one year old words still hold true. Who amongst us hasn’t been disappointed by a power company or internet provider whose costs go up despite our loyalty, whilst their offers to attract new customers are half what we’re paying?
Earlier in the week, I was in conversation with someone who sold on behalf of a large company, but for whom it was more than selling a product, it was about a relationship, about partnering with the client as if they were on their team.
I love this story. I have often included the sense of something Frederick Buechner said about finding our purpose: it is where our deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need. The real economy of the world is not only about doing what we want to do, but meeting people’s needs by means of this.
This is the wonderful opportunity life provides us with.
(*From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(**From Seth Godin’s blog: Unacceptable.)