I keep hearing theories about an upcoming utopia, in which the world will FINALLY be a better place, more equal, more peaceful due to technology – specifically technology that makes sharing and processing information easier, along with technology that makes the economy more effecient. Technology will democratize the world and everyone will benefit, to the point where we will merge with the technology, amd can also pursue our hobbies and dreams because we will be freed from labor. Of course, the main people making this utopian claim this are men, mainly white men living in the richest countries in the world and who are the ones who invent and control the technology.
Let’s just start with the fact that in order to build this technology, we must first pillage the earth for minerals – referred to as conflict minerals because conflict has broken out among men in the developing countries being exploited, namely in Africa. So men invent technology, exploit developing countries to build said technology, and those men in turn pick up arms to kill each for some semblance control of these minerals sourced from their land. In the meantime, women and children just trying to live are caught in the crossfire. Granted, there are men who are not in the conflict and may get forced into it, but the women bear the brunt of the resulting poverty and rapes and have no control whatsoever, no power at all to stop these men from causing complete social meltdown. All they can do is attempt to feed and clothe their children without getting raped or killed, and the men involved – both those who invent the technology and those who fight over the minerals – care very little about the destruction of society.
Apparently Apple has been scaling back the most, followed by other tech companies (as opposed to jewelry companies, apparently), yet the cleanup is not complete and what happens as the minerals became rarer and harder to find? Will competition rise? Will the minerals be developed in a lab? If so, what will be left behind? And why not just try and do it already? Will the environmental degradation and violence caused by the production of technology of which the developed world is the prime beneficiary be worth it? And of course, all those gadgets and gizmos are eventually trashed, unleashing toxic chemicals and plastics that do not degrade into the environment.
So now that we have the technology, is there any evidence it will usher in some utopia?
I know that the first argument tech supporters will say is that you can’t control how technology is used, and just because some people use it for nefarious purposes doesn’t mean it will mostly be peaceful. But since technology is ALREADY HERE and we are ALREADY USING IT we can examine this thesis – and it doesn’t hold up.
Facebook was used to drive the brutal genocide of the Rohingya people of Burma, which besides murder also unleashed a wave of rape against women and girls. China is using technology for some super creepy government control which basically rates social status.
And them there is the proliferation of porn and the sex industry. Thanks to the internet, ever more violent porn committed against the bodies of women is becoming accessible to more and more men and boys – who are now reenacting the porn on women’s bodies. The porn industry was always abusive but the internet seems to really have allowed men’s imaginations to go wild on how they can abuse and humiliate females. Children, particularly girls, are preyed upon by men through the internet. An entirely new category of porn – revenge porn – has been created, used mainly by men against women. And once you are on the internet, you are on it forever. Meaning, if your boyfriend films the two of you having sex without your knowledge and puts it on the internet, also without your knowledge, then you are forever a character in a porn video. And the authorities won’t do shit – I know someone this happened to. And then there was Gamergate and other campaigns of harassment to push women from where men believe they don’t belong.
Technology will never be democratizing if it is controlled mainly by one group. And technology on every level is controlled by men – specifically white rich men living in some male techy bubble. This is why porn has been allowed to proliferate and why women continue to be exposed to misogyny in every form of social media. This is why people like Mark Zuckerberg seem to continually be in denial about the harm social media can cause, especially concerning misogyny and genocide, and are dragging their feet at creating a solution.
If you are going to make a prediction, at least have evidence to back it up, and, given the current state of the intersection of technology and society there is no evidence that technology will usher in a utopia. Well, at least for women, and there are plenty of men who believe that utopia only involves class erasure. In other words, utopias are really about the status of men. The backlash against women and feminism that began in the 80s has accelerated as women are objectified by the newest generation of males. I have a hard time understanding how this will democratize that world for women.
In truth, technology of all forms has done nothing to rid the world of social or economic inequality.
Which brings me to the next claim of the utopian powers of technology- automation.
For several years tech supporters have claimed that automation is going to make life richer for former laborers because instead of doing a horrible, tedious job, they are freed by technology to pursue hobbies, volunteering, etc. once out of work. Nevermind that people, mainly men, are already out of work and this is not what has happened. Techies may shoot back with something about a universal salary, more education, blah blah. What they are assuming, of course, is that society is going to somehow stabilize after this complete societal and economic disruption caused by increasing automation.
What they don’t take into account are actual social trends. Society is becoming more polarized due to the economics that impact politics, and – this is important – much of it is due to disenfranchised males who have been replaced by automation. Among this tech optimism there seems to be little understanding of how human beings actually react to, well, anything. Furthermore, the assumption that these unemployed men are going to start volunteering and getting hobbies and this will be satisfying is grounded in complete economic privilege – which also views manual jobs as drudgery, ignoring pride people may have in these jobs, which often build the physical structures needed for society. Maybe the techies volunteer and find hobbies when unemployed, no doubt supported by the money they have saved and a nice unemployment check to get them through such a stage, but that is not the same experience for working class men. Once these sectors of society are out of work, their focus becomes survival. We also just don’t need that many volunteers. I am in nonprofit, so I know.
These jobs that are being automated are male dominated, and large group of unemployed, dissatisfied men is not good for society. Boko Haram was created by young jobless men who then wreaked havoc on society, particularly the freedom of women and girls. In Syria, dissatisfied men were drawn into war, bringing in other dissatisfied men from Europe, who then further destabilized Syria. The resulting refugee crisis was in a large part driven by the threat of sexual assault by men of women. In Europe, any riots regarding the economy were begun and carried out by men. In America, dissatisfied young black men reacted to events such as Ferguson with violence, interrupting peaceful protests. And of course, the gangs of the US have been built largely by unemployed men, and prostitution, stripping, and rape are part and parcels of these gangs as women are sold and traded along with drugs. And then there is Antifa, made up of angry white males who have become increasingly violent. When there is ANY kind of societal breakdown, violence, perpetrated by men, rises along with violence against women. The Taliban, Boko Haram, gangs, Anifa, the now male-dominated Black Lives Matter movement – at the very least women and their needs are pushed to the side, at the worst women are punished and sold, raped, and killed collectively by men with no other prospects or outlet for money and power.
Make no mistake, in societies with high male unemployment, societal breakdown, etc., women are also disenfranchised. So not only are they facing financial and social hardship, they often lack or lose the power to prevent the violence and instability into which their patriarchal societies descend. Thus their experiences are doubly compounded by violence and dissatisfaction. But what is also important to keep in mind is that large groups of unemployed women do not begin inflicting mass violence on society.
The tech industry seems in complete denial of these social results of unemployed and dissatisfied men, instead harping about the efficiency benefits to businesses and, of course, the opportunity for self exploration unemployment supposedly provides. What a neo-liberal, individualistic view of the world. It lacks any real critique of what is actually happening, and it takes absolutely NO account of climate change. Climate change is already destabilizing the world. In fact, climate change was partly responsible for the mega drought of Syria, compounding the unraveling of that society. As climate change intersects with more unemployed, dissatisfied populations, where and when will the democratization of technology occur – especially since tech has such a huge role in driving unemployment and degrading the environment even further?
The men who write and speak of the coming tech merger and utopia can hold these views becuase technology HAS improved their lives. In terms of economy, they interact with the business owners, not the workers displaced by technology. They are not on the receiving end of porn, hate campaigns, and genocide. They are not the ones living in the lands from which they extract materials to build their technology. They view technology through rose colored glasses because they are the demographic the builds and runs technology.
Would including more women and minorities be the answer? No, because we have been trying to achieve this goal for years, with very little progress, and continuing on a path that is barely showing results solves nothing and allows negative social environments to continue to grow. This is further compounded by the current backlash against the rights of women and minorities. And it still wouldn’t solve the issue of porn, conflict minerals, etc. The REAL solution is one that those in the tech industry and business owners don’t want to face: stop replacing jobs with technology, start making tech to be as long lasting as possible to decrease the need for more extraction, and start ridding the internet of activity that is clearly harmful to society – not just regulating it, but completely erasing it. An argument that activity would just go underground is bull because we already have the dark net – and this is just a lazy view in my opinion, which reflects the lack of any real, united, international effort to truly keep the internet as harmless and democratic as possible, especially regarding women. Porn is, after all, considered free speech….
The problem with these solutions, of course, is that they interfere with the neo-liberal views of profits, “free speech,” and libertarian tech utopias. Thus I doubt such radical actions will even be seriously considered. People don’t like when their world views are dramatically altered or questioned in any way – even if it is for the good of the many.