Prompted by Sarah Wambold
Technological progress does not come without its tariffs, the impacts of which are largely not understood for years, or decades to come. We freely share moments from our days on social media, often giving very little thought to the distance that data travels, or the transfer of ownership that takes place when we hit “Share.” We wear robots on our wrists that count our every step, without thinking about the trail of habits we unwittingly reveal to others who would look for it. We use countless tools to improve communication, time management, and productivity, but do we really ever improve at doing those things, or—conversely—do we actually get worse?
We are already aware that the promise of smart cities and self-driving cars will put huge numbers of people—taxi drivers, truck drivers, postal carriers, etc.—out of work. Could Universal Basic Income be the answer, as Elon Musk asserts? Technophiles praise technology’s promise of liberation—bodies free from manual labor, minds free from the drudgery of mundane jobs. But is the American mindset capable of that shift?
In her 1963 classic, “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan looked at what household technologies had done for women and concluded that they had just created more demands. “Even with all the new labor-saving appliances,” she wrote, “the modern American housewife probably spends more time on housework than her grandmother.” When things become easier, we can seek to fill our time with more “easy” tasks. At some point, life’s defining struggle becomes the tyranny of tiny chores and petty decisions.
—Tim Wu, The Tyranny of Convenience, New York Times
The optimist believes a renaissance will follow the offloading of menial tasks. But is reality proving a deeper slide to more dependance, distraction, and division? Our ability to anticipate issues of data privacy, governance, and regulation is markedly outstripped by the rapid pace of major technological advances. Those who are most likely to suffer the blow of the next major tech revolution are the least likely to be able to protect themselves against it.
But the answer to the question—Liberator or Tyrant?—lies somewhere between the dichotomies, of course. These issues, and many others, beg for a better understanding of technology’s outcomes, nuances, and the complex systems it triggers. How might we ensure that technology is in service to us, and not the other way around? Are there agreeable costs for the next tech revolution? What roles can automation play in the museum sector, and in arts and culture? In 100 years, what currency will win out—convenience, emotional intelligence, creativity? How can we plan, test, and organize for that future? Ultimately, where are we in this technological moment—liberated by tech’s potential, or servants to its mounting demands?
The Tyranny of Convenience, New York Times
‘Automating Inequality’: Algorithms In Public Services Often Fail The Most Vulnerable
We Once Saw Technology As Liberating
Planet Money #796: The Basic Income Experiment
99% Invisible: Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, pt. 2)
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About the Prompter
Sarah Wambold is the director of digital media at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver where she leads digital strategy and initiatives. Her diverse portfolio of projects includes websites, documentary-style video, digital publications, content management systems, and user-facing interfaces and applications. She is the co-leader of a recently published national study of 25 museum websites, that measured online behavior in relation to identity-related motivations. With more than a decade of experience in the arts and culture sector, she has interviewed hundreds of artists, curators, and directors. Her educational background includes graphic design, journalism, and arts management.