Mammon Manifesto

Call me a Luddite

noun

  1. DEROGATORY a person opposed to new technology or ways of working.
    “a small-minded Luddite resisting progress”
  2. HISTORICAL a member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16).

The evolution of technology is quickening

After a certain point, technological advances don’t increase quality of life. In fact, I’d argue that once a certain point is reached that technology decreases quality of life. We’ve reached that point.

Technology has enabled some great innovations like central air, the automobile, medical advances, the telephone, among others. And sure we could keep pushing further until space ships are like cars, people can transplant their consciousness into a robot or a clone, or artificially intelligent robots do all the work.

But what’s wrong with this planet? Why do we want to escape our bodies and our humanity? What’s wrong with human’s working?  Sure positive arguments can be made for the advancement of technology and we hear a lot of those arguments, but what about some considerations about the ills of technology? That’s a side of the story that we don’t hear as often.

(The law of) diminishing returns used to refer to a point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.

I’m asking you to rethink your relationship with technology.

I’m a member of the last generation to grow up without the Internet. Now, we see toddlers on tablets, teenagers with smartphones, and everyone using single-use plastics. It wasn’t always like this. As the generations who grew up without technological advances die off, then our dependence on technology will be more normalized. Is that a good thing?

I don’t think so.

We need to think critically about our relationship with technology and what that means moving forward. A good place to start is how our relationship has changed over time. The pace of technological evolution has taken off since the industrial revolution. In roughly the same time period, we’ve not only seen technological innovation fuel consumerism, but we’ve also seen it fill other parts of our value void that has been left behind as we’ve moved away from God.

Many of us look to virtual reality for comfort. We watch shows, play video games, and post on social media. We kill time, lots of it, on our screens. We seek gratification from the virtual void. One that would cease to exist if the power went out tomorrow. We also use technology in our physical reality. Many of the goods that we buy today are made of plastics and other materials that are part of technological advances.

Since technological advances have normalized junk, many of us don’t question all the nonessential goods that are around us. We don’t question why they are made, how they are made, or what impact they have on the environment and our bodies. We don’t question. We just buy.

Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods.

But if we stopped to think, then we would see that many of the nonessential goods we buy are built with plastic. Plastics were an industry that arose from technological advances driven by war. Once the world wars were over plastic manufacturers still had factories. They wanted to make money so they turned to consumer goods. The majority of plastics are synthetic, they are made of petroleum and oil. 

It’s our thoughtlessness that leads to an ignorant demand for nonessential goods creating a giant market and a lot of junk that isn’t reusable or recyclable. If we just thought a little bit more about our purchases, then it would decrease the demand for these goods. 

If we took it one step further and were intentional about not purchasing nonessential goods or junk and using the money to go to a better cause, let’s say healthcare for example. We could cover healthcare expenses for 3 out of 4 Americans. That’s how much money we spend on junk.

Beyond the production of junk, technology has also proliferated the platforms to advertise that junk. Like when you go to a website and then you see ads follow you around across the web. Companies pay big money to market their products.

The top 200 advertisers in the US spent $163,000,000,000 on marketing in 2018

Imagine how much more money is spent by other advertisers per year. Did you know that for less than half of what these companies spend on advertising we could provide free tuition for 4-year public colleges and universities?

Finally, technology has proliferated debt. Consumer debt is now at an all-time high. Thanks to credit cards and financing options that allow people to buy stuff with money they don’t have.

To summarize here are three main reasons why I don’t fancy technology: 

  1. Technology produces junk. 
  2. Technology promotes junk. 
  3. Technology exacerbates debt.

But that’s not all.

Technology helps employers exploit employees

Technology has helped lower costs by making processes more efficient or reducing long term overhead. Technology replaces (American) workers. It started with robots on the manufacturing lines like robots on the GM assembly line. Then, it went on to the service sector, whether it’s a chatbot versus a person greeting you or if it’s a real person, but just over in the Philippines or India and paid a fraction of the cost of an American worker. Then online shopping has been dealing a huge blow to brick and mortar retail. While there are, or were, many retail stores in local counties, there aren’t fulfillment centers in every county. Closing retailers are leaving behind unemployed workers without many options for re-employment in their local communities. 

As technology takes over more jobs, we create more fluff jobs to take their place. Back in the 1800s, 1 in 5 Americans lived on a farm. In the 2000s, 1 in 10 Americans worked in retail.  

Technology enables employers to take it one step further. Beyond eliminating employees, many companies now get the customers to do the work for free. Whether it’s placing an order on an app, using self-checkout at Walmart, checking in at an airline kiosk, or ordering a Big Mac at self-checkout. The cost savings aren’t passed on to the consumer, but rather pocketed as extra profits by the business.

Exploitation has led to concentrated wealth

Tech billionaire, Jeff Bezos, is richer than any person ever. Until the next guy, or girl, comes along.

As employers replace employees with technology or cheaper labor abroad, their profit margins grow. That’s why we see wealthy CEOs, investors, shareholders, and business owners doing better than ever before. The benefits of technological advances have largely gone to the top with the bottom seeing few gains. If you look at every technological revolution, you’ll see:

Agrarian: The landholders were rich

Industrial: The industrialists who owned oil refineries, steel mills, factories, and railroads were richer than the old landholders

Information communication technology: The corporate shareholders and financiers who benefited from communication advances and increased globalization were richer than the old industrialists

New tech: The founders of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other tech giants are richer than anyone else in American history

Technology leads to overvaluing the wrong stuff

Facebook was valued at $629.6 billion one day and dropped to $506.2 billion overnight.

Part of the reason that these tech billionaires are wealthier than ever is the valuation of their companies, but when a company can lose 20% of its value overnight how much are the stockholders really worth? How do you value something that is intangible? You can’t kick it. You can’t touch it. It’s in the cloud. If the power went out tomorrow and stayed out, then it would cease to exist. We’ve got a lot of companies that revolve around virtual products. Whether it’s Facebook, Snapchat, Salesforce, Amazon Web Services, or any of tech company from Startup to tech giant. Facebook’s valuation was largely based on the size of its user base and advertising potential. Amazon Web Services provides pay-as-you-go cloud computing services and it’s more profitable for the company than it’s online retail business, but you’ve probably never heard of it. 

In the 1990s, we had trouble valuing technology with the rise of the Internet. A lot of people speculated on technology companies investing lots of money in their stocks and overvaluing them. These companies focused on growth and brand awareness over profits and many of them weren’t profitable. But that didn’t stop them from spending lots of money on lavish events, offices, and more. The result was they burned through their cash and brought them to the verge of bankruptcy. And for the markets that meant that most internet stocks had declined in value by 75% from their highs, wiping out $1.755 trillion in value.

(over)valuation

If we take a minute to look at overvaluation from the tech bubble and today, it makes me wonder…

Are we in another tech bubble?

Technology isn’t only overvalued. It also makes us take things for granted. We’re less appreciative of hard work.

As technology has enabled the switch from farming to manufacturing to service, our hands are less on the work it takes to live. You can’t live without food, but we can live without many of the things we manufacture and mostly all of the service, technological, and retail industry stuff that dominates our market today.

Hard work: Handwork  If we were to replace the word hard with the word hand, so it would read making us less appreciative of handwork. It would be equally as meaningful. Technological advances separate us from the work that actually produces real, tangible goods. We are further removed from the process with each technological advance. Whether it’s someone making cars who now just babysits machines when a half-century ago they would have been more hands-on or if it’s someone eating a salad that they purchased from the chain store versus growing some of the leafy greens themselves or buying it from a local farmer.

Or maybe it’s someone working in a shoe retailer selling shoes that were made in factories abroad. Shoe salesmen that know nothing about shoemaking. You get what you pay for, Payless shoes. Continuing in the vein of shoes and feet, I’d like to take the irony one step further. The main differentiator between luxury shoes and cheap shoes is that luxury shoes are handmade by sweatshop workers whereas the cheap shoes are fashioned in more mechanized factories, but both are made abroad. We really value that human touch, but we don’t care where it comes from. In the 1960s, we made 98 percent of our shoes, now we import more than 90 percent.

We don’t have our hands-on what it takes to make stuff anymore. When farming was more local, factories were less automated, and goods were made in the USA, people had a better idea of what hard work was and an appreciation for the process. Like GM factories workers who would come up from the plant at the end of the workday, and talk to their families about their job and experience. Then the families would proudly hop in their GM for a ride.

Now, thanks to technology, even service jobs are being offshored away from American soil. When we call into Verizon, Comcast, Amazon, or other big-name corporations that offer consumer services, we are likely speaking with someone in a call center in India or the Philippines. Although they use different names to make us feel more at home, we know. We’re talking to a Nikhil, not a Nick.

If we aren’t willing to do the hard work, then someone else will be willing to do it for less. And technology has made that possible. Granted there are exchange rates and labor arbitrage at play, but by and large big corporations were able to use technology to increase profit margins, then they used their earnings to lobby politicians and weaken unions, making it easier to offshore jobs.

The American dream has been offshored. Keeping up with the Jones is more like keeping up with the Singhs who have good call center jobs. When jobs come back onshore, it will be because Americans are willing to do hard work for less because they have hit rock bottom while India, China, Mexico have increased their quality of life. It’s a harsh reality.

Technology disconnects us

American adults spend more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to, or simply interacting with media.

How many times do you see people out to eat with friends or family, but immersed in their phones? Or walking on the sidewalk head down and scrolling? Or driving with their eyes fixed on their screen? These are sights we see too often.

When the screen time feature appeared on my iPhone, I was shocked. I knew I spent time on my phone, but never realized how much. 

How much time do you spend on your phone, on your tablet, on your computer, playing video games, or watching media?

We’re more tethered to technology than ever before. We’re also less connected with our family, friends, and neighbors. This trend began to emerge with the television in the 1940s/1950s. Instead of socializing at block parties or with neighbors, people would buy TV dinners and consume them along with their favorite shows. 

We might have more communication than ever these days, but the quality and substance of that communication are lower than it has ever been. What happened to letters? Or classic phone calls?

Technology is forcing us toward one system

Instead of being an additional option technology is increasingly becoming the only option. Remember when there were public payphones? Now, everyone is expected to have a personal cell phone. Or remember printed bills or receipts, today many companies are going paperless, which although it has its benefits sometimes it’s nice to have a physical copy of a receipt or a bill for important transactions. How many of us still carry cold hard cash?

Some might argue that there are more ways to pay than ever now: PayPal, Apple Pay, Credit Cards, Cash, Check, etc. But how many people do you know who still use cash or check? These are being phased out. Next, it’s credit cards. Before you know it, we’ll need a digital footprint to buy and sell goods. 

Our phones are even starting to replace credit cards. How long until we use an implanted chip or a fingerprint to pay for stuff? And what if that is the only way to buy and sell goods? Without other options, we would be totally dependent on one system. At least today, some people still pay with cash and some people don’t have credit scores because they don’t have any debt and there are still avenues for those people, but they’re disappearing daily. Try to secure a mortgage, get Internet, home security, or phone service without a credit score.

What do you do when the power goes out?

Take a minute to write down your thoughts. Answering this question can show us a lot about our dependence on technology. Whether it’s for entertainment or survival or anywhere on that spectrum we’re very dependent on technology.

If your power goes out on a summer evening, you won’t be able to stream shows. Or if you’re at the store when the power goes out, you won’t be able to complete your purchase. If the power goes out for a long period, your food in your freezer and your refrigerator will go bad. If the power goes out in the dead of winter in Michigan and you only have a furnace that runs on electricity. You will have no heat. Or if the power is shuttered to prevent wildfires in California and you depend on an oxygen machine, you might die. In fact, someone did die.

We’re reliant on technology and on the grid that runs it. If our electrical grid ever crashed, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Now, take a minute to think about how you can move your life away from the grid whether it’s switching your entertainment to analog versus digital (pick up that book, guitar or easel), making sure your house has a fireplace, or if it’s having an alternative power source at your house (solar or a generator). What are some steps you could take?

When the power goes out

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *