Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wrong Yet Again

Eric Loomis and Matthew Yglesias are having an argument about technology and its ability to improve one's life. As Loomis points out, with becoming politeness, he knows quite a bit more than Yglesias about the subject under consideration and, as is usually the case, Yglesias misses the point.

I'd like to make a point about facts, reality, and Yglesias' resistance to both. Yglesias argues that
Once upon a time, middle class American households had to spend an incredible amount of time washing laundry and dishes by hand. Nowadays, the mass public can afford dishwashers and washer/dryers.
The facts of the matter are that technology hasn't changed the amount of time involved in managing a household; it just shifted it around:
Yet despite the introduction of electricity, running water, and "labor-saving" household appliances, time spent on housework did not decline. Indeed, the typical full-time housewife today spends just as much time on housework as her grandmother or great-grandmother. In 1924, a typical housewife spent about 52 hours a week in housework. Half a century later, the average full-time housewife devoted 55 hours to housework. A housewife today spends less time cooking and cleaning up after meals, but she spends just as much time as her ancestors on housecleaning and even more time on shopping, household management, laundry, and childcare.
So the problem here is that the best example he can come up with relies on his usual commitment to factiness while avoiding reality. This is made even more abundantly clear when one considers Yglesias admission that the alleged benefits of technology
hasn’t happened. But the world would be a better place if it had.
This isn't, as Yglesias seems to think, a defense of technological optimism; it's a reason to reject it. Relying on the automaticism of technological innovation has, time and again, failed to achieve the utopian society technological optimists promised.  The time has come, as the Walrus put it, to speak of many things chief amongst them the need to create the world we want by changing the rules, as it were, creating the world we want. Second among them is the admission that proponents of automaticism are apologists for a world made in the image and likeness of those with money.

As is his wont, Yeglesias argues that if only the world wasn't so stubbornly the way it is instead of the way he wishes it were he'd be right.


  1. I worked in a animal lab for awhile and we installed "self cleaning" mouse cages. Basically the way they worked was dry air was pumped into each cage at high enough rate to dry feces and evaporate urine. Each cage had to be hooked up to the air apparatus and needed a special kind of cage washer when after three weeks you did change the bedding. The entire system cost millions of dollars and not only created all sorts of comparability problems with previouse work it took more time to clean the cages when it was all said and done.

    The company that sold the system was always wining and dining the lab management and sure enough I heard recently they were spending more money to buy another set of self cleaning cages for lab expansion. Of course they were trying to lay lab technicians off the entire time to take advantage of the "time saving".

    In the case of my lab it seemed that techno worship was the perfect storm of something that screwed over workers, made Money for a big company, and as an added bonus made things pretty crappy for animals. Sounds like a success to me.

  2. Sure, but as Yglesias would argue, if things had been entirely other than then are then the technology would have done exactly as it was supposed to. And, as an added bonus, all those lab techs could become barristas in this increasingly rich world of ours.