12 June 2020
by Robert Paulson
Today’s innovations and progress swoop humanity into a neat cycle of anticipation and acquisition through deceptive notions that guide it to dependence. We’re sold on products and ideas through questionable but politically acceptable marketing tactics. We buy, pre-order, take out loans, only to supposedly upgrade later to a somehow inferior product.
We were always conditioned for this, like many others, back in school it was suggested by adults to perceive school and homework as a real job. Having little visibility into what I got out of this job - little freedom, no money, - the desire for an actual job was obvious. A whole streak of professions later, I’m engulfed in work that I’m glad I enjoy, but there’s always a thought in the back of my mind of what could’ve been, an alternative lifestyle I see practiced by numerous acquaintances: a much less stable career opposite more free time, less toys, a stricter necessity to default to mentally stimulating activities like reading, socializing, exercising; simply because there wouldn’t be spare resources to purchase garbage entertainment. There’s a slight feeling of entrapment: “The things you own end up owning you.” On the other hand, of course, it could just be the same struggle but highlighted by debt. Yet, I digress: this is a social example of the cycle of anticipation and dependence, where expectations of freedom (a job, a car, a place to live) didn’t match reality - added responsibilities, stress, less free time.
Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to become a hardcore minimalist to ease some of the burden of falling into capitalist traps - obviously not hard enough. Three-four years ago my end goal was to only have as much crap as would fit in my car. At my best I got down to two or three car loads. Having grown addicted to change for irrelevant reasons, I tend to move every year: a good way to gauge how much of the house became storage in that time; though isn’t it a nice capitalist dream to have the space for all the toys and trinkets? A shed with tools to build a white picket fence, those collages of family photographs on the stairwell, an RV in the backyard, a lawn mower you can sit on, a car for each family member. It’s a circular requirement: get the house for the stuff, get more stuff for the house, fill the house with a family, get a bigger house. Quite reminiscent of “get a car to go to work to pay for the car,” except with a stronger dependency cycle, higher risks and debts. The anticipation and dependence in this case is for items marketed as tools, which are rather toys.
There’s an inherent issue with progress. Someone keeps telling us that things will make our lives easier, our work better, our time more meaningful. Smartphones, new payment methods, cars with gimmicks no one needs. Why are we being offered touchscreen radios, inefficient biometric locks on smartphones, less universal USB cables? Smartphones are becoming the answer to everything from buying a local bus ticket to authentication and travel routes, yet important metrics, like battery life are never improved. Somehow everyone is okay with it, even though we’re all aware of the control companies impose on their devices, the fact that somehow the hardware will get slower over the years. We’re not even in control of these devices we buy, they’re nothing but rentals: their producers fight against third party repairs, reselling parts, even installing our own software.
The Industrial Revolution was the same concept: introduce machinery to automate routine tasks while advertising a lighter workload for the workers. Due to marvels of capitalism, to save costs and generate more revenue, that naturally didn’t happen: folks simply lost their jobs. Realistically, in such an environment it would never be possible to automate work and keep the workers at the same rates: a competitor would quickly duplicate the product at a lower price. Corporate competition ensures that the workforce is used to its highest potential at all times, and realistically - there isn’t a political stance that can fix this at our levels of populations and diversity.
I suppose what I really want to say is this: we ought to look past marketing and presentation, see products and notions for what they are and strive for the ones with clear improvements.