Techno Entitlement



Gavin Mueller has an interesting article at Jacobin here:

Kevin Drum wrote a piece at Mother Jones…

What seems missing from most discussions of this subject (both automation and technology) is that the way both have evolved, in practical terms, as mostly management and control mechanisms for the poor.

The elite class seems almost to pay for a life free of machines these days, or least technology is mediated with a human face. There is a technology of comfort that few can afford. Most of us must endure automated registration of everything. The poor endure the bureaucratic side of technology. The affluent class can easily bypass these things by either hiring someone to deal with it, or buying services that are human operated. It is now a sign of luxury that one can deal face to face with underlings. The masses often get only machine voices. Of course some bureaucratic activities entail human clerks — but the process is usually pretty weighted toward full automation.

It is clear that automation doesn’t always make things more effecient. Not in service areas. In communications the fully automated answering service is clearly less efficient, but it might be cheaper for management. If the general public (the proletariat) is adversely effected, who cares. The servicing and repair of this automation usually lags far behind its breakage, because again, the users are salaried workers. If the white collar affluent class use this automation, it is either mediated with a human face, or maintained in fully working order. Call a large Beverly Hills doctors office and if, IF there is an automated machine directing your call, you can be certain it will work. If you call some food stamp info line, rest assured you will get a busy signal or be disconnected after a thirty minute wait.

Time is important, the rich buy time. They buy “time” by paying others to deal with it, or they buy the saving of time. They buy the human time of others.

von huene statue marionette

Fully automated food, as Gavin Mueller’s article makes clear, is much the same as the automated feed lots at pig or chicken farms. That’s essentially what you’re getting. The higher up the exclusivity ladder one goes, the fewer machines one sees. Or rather, the technology one sees is of a different order. The rich can pre-order first class rail tickets (say, in Paris or London) while the working class must hope to find an automated kiosk that works…and wait in a line. The ruling class status symbol is, now, post technology (human help, human gadgets, all cast in a perverse golden light of nostalgia for the owning of the help — which is a bit like chauffeurs in a sense).

rear bus int

Now…..there are interesting paradoxes as automation becomes more computerized.

One thing is that as income becomes more polarized, there will be an increase in and creation of specialized service jobs. These can include both maintenance and repair, but to a larger degree, personalized service personel — post modern servants, really. The personal assistant is already a huge employment field, but I expect this to grow even larger and more specialized (rickshaw technician etc). This is a semi skilled market — and probably servant schools are just around the corner— think Jakob Von Gunten.

The paradox however, or one of them, has to do with what exactly automation, and technology, are intended to be doing. Theoretically. I know the answer to some of this, but not all of it.

However, Marx specifically criticizes the “bourgeois political economists” who “assert that all machinery that displaces workers simultaneously, and necessarily, sets free an amount of capital adequate to employ precisely those workers displaced”

This doesn’t happen. Ever.

Raya Dunayevskaya criticized those who forgot “the actual class struggle at the point of production”, in a debate about automation.

from Nick Dyer-Witheford:

“A central instance is its drive to technological innovation. In a pioneering essay that foreshadows much later technology critique, Panzieri (1980) broke decisively with left views of techno-scientific development as an objective, ’progressive’ tendency. Rather, returning to the pages in Capital on the early introduction of machinery, he proposed that capitalism resorts to incessant technological renovation as a ’weapon’ against the working class : its tendency to increase the proportion of dead or ’constant’ capital as against living or ’variable’ capital involved in the production process arises precisely from the fact that the latter is a potentially insurgent element with which management is locked in battle and which must at every turn be controlled, fragmented, reduced or ultimately eliminated.7 Simply to ratify the process of technological rationalisation was to ignore that what is being ; consolidated in this process is capitalist rationality. This is not to deny that technological change can open radical political opportunity for the working class ; as we will sec, the autonomists were bold experimenters in this field. But it is to reject the notion that such change is automatically emancipatory. Whatever possibility technical advance holds out for a ’socialist use of machines’ would only be seized to the degree that working class insubordination realises a ’wholly subversive character.’ (Panzieri 1980, 57 ; 1976, 12).”

The Reagan/Thatcher revolution was partly a reaction to the new information society (sic). In other words, the dismantling of social safety nets coincided with union busting, and more importantly with a decentralizing of labor, and with a monetary policing that decreased wages and protections for the worker. This signaled the rise of the service sector — and geographic agility for the managerial class, making use of new labor (cheap) markets. In this context, computerization resulted in the start of the new surveillance society. One has to keep an eye on these very spread out virtual-factory floors.

The seduction by technology however, was a real force in pacifying the worker. And, not wanting to be a luddite here, the new electronic media *has* opened up genuine potential for organizing and resistance.

This is where one has to examine how labor is integrated into Capital’s process of value extraction. This has also run parallel to the co-option of scientific research to the interests of capital, and innovation serving only the purposes of marketing. Things don’t have to be new, just appear to be new.

This integration, however, has several dimensions. Here we get into the “attention economy” that Beller and others have written about. The new factory is amorphous — and computerized control is presented as liberation. And this is where the class conflict enters this discussion of automation. For…as Dyer-Witheford puts it

” Capital’s colonisation of the spheres of circulation and reproduction means that recreation, education, health care, welfare, are all subject to increasingly precise monitoring and regulation aimed at sustaining the overall, social conditions of corporate profit. “

The working class, in general, is the target of monitoring and control. The idea that citizenship once carried with it rights and freedoms has given way in a very direct sense to being seen as a service entity, of potential value to the state, but to be kept track of and controlled. One cannot register for, example, for food stamps or retirement benefits, or welfare, without having sufficient documentation that always includes a cell phone number, an address, a work history and a travel history. You are there to be of use to the plantation. Period. Going off plantation has its penalties.

standouglas screen

Technology exists in two dimensions, or from two perpsectives: labor and management. The elite classes continue to provide themselves with human faces, either servants (essentially) in the form of elite specialized personal assistants or sector assistants (low grade managers). For labor, automation means standardized controls and surveillance.

People fall in love with their gadgets. They stop caring what those gadgets do. The sounds, the feel, the look of equipment is eroticized. It is the perfect bride for the man of Manifest Destiny.

Jason Lanier in his new book “Who Owns the Future” writes:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 14,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

The conflict between labor and capital is now distanced from the point of production. This is the real meaning of the “new commons” that is the internet and social media.

In an interview in Salon, Lanier said:

“Right. Well, I think what’s been happening is a shift from the formal to the informal economy for most people. So that’s to say if you use Instagram to show pictures to your friends and relatives, or whatever service it is, there are a couple of things that are still the same as they were in the times of Kodak. One is that the number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn’t work if there weren’t many millions of people using it. And furthermore, many people kind of have to use social networks for them to be functional besides being valuable. People have to, there’s a constant tending that’s done on a volunteer basis so that people can find each other and whatnot.

So there’s still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It’s reputation, it’s barter, it’s that kind of stuff.”

The digital slum.

Technological emancipation doesn’t exist for janitors, fast food employees, maids, taxi drivers, or data entry workers — in other words, the deskilled laborer has been ever further marginalized, relegated to the new digital slum, which is really not even that, it is simply the final destination for the chattel of Empire. A psychic holding tank. The logic of social domination means that the hi-tech industries, controlled by a few giant corporations, will, and do, continually re-brand themselves with the images of a utopian post industrial world of social networking while the reality is that a system of control is reaching a totalised reality. Even those on food stamps must adhere to the basic tenants of electronic monitoring. The trinkets and toys of digital industries are divided between those that provide greater comfort and escape from daily toil, and those who must toil further to maintain an ever more precarious identity in the surveillance state. Automation means deskilled is fine, and high turn over is fine because nobody has to really be trained for much.

alchemy domain
The future possibilities for resistance seem to reside in de-commodified activities, worker cooperatives, and self management of production. The problem for micro economies of solidarity, as it were, is the hegemonic control of this electronic communication. I’ve recently been struck with the reality of state monitoring — the registered individual, the fact that decentralized labor, or recreation, or creation of artworks, means that this new computer control of circulation and of distribution, coupled to the use its put to in tracking citizens, and the electronic record of everything everyone does has led to a really disturbing landscape of domination. Now the affluent class pooh poohs this, yawns, and goes about its daily life because they aren’t affected. They use technology as diversion, as entertainment, and if they have to engage in any of the tedious stuff most of us live with, its often farmed out to assistants. They see only *promise* is this digitalized new world. The obvious extension of this, politically, is drone warfare. The computer game expression of material murder. The site of the production of death is thousands of miles away from the material product. For all the cell phone witnessing of police brutality (which is one of the few positives in this) there is this accumulation of high tech policing that is going on. The militarized domestic police is another way of saying technologically advanced and armed police. I suspect the goal (which might not be feasible for Obama and Holder, partly because cops are sadistic by nature) is that surveillance reach such a place of hegemony, of saturation, that they can promote the idea and appearance of de-escalating the domestic police and shift focus onto further economic and trade colonialism. The surveillance reaching a place of total information awareness…..wait…..someone else already used that term I think.

Automation has liberated some from a specific violence (women and children in certain work and workplaces) but in many industries….insurance say, the result was to decentralize workers into teams that did multiple tasks…their linkage was the computer. The technology actually intensified stress. This is a topic where one has to start to analyse Fordism, Taylorism, and that’s not my goal here. I really wanted to just write about this sense I have of technological entitlement. The upper classes view and interact with technology very differently than the working class. Technological entitlement means learning skills, and expecting that these skills, applied to new technologies, will serve them in their careers (their *future*). The vacuum cleaner made life less physically debilitating for housewives and janitorial workers and maids. It did not alter the system that created these castes. Marx was right in his critique of bourgeois economists (above). And now, the site of production is ever harder to pin down, the tensions are mystified further.
glass factory

Culturally though, there is a secondary layer here. Lanier, interestingly, pointed it out in an interview when speaking about digital music, that it was born of one-zero binaries, a keyboard players p.o.v., and these binary tile mosaics were never going to capture the transient fleeting almost sub-clinical note produced by singers for example. One only has to look at CGI to know how profoundly limiting digitalization can be in film. Now, there may be a breakthrough vision attached to these very same limitations (as I perceive them) just around the corner, but for now, they are mimicking previous optical or aural models (sort of like vegetarian hamburger). And here we arrive at, culturally, the heart of the matter. As modernism has died, finally, and post modernism gasps its not quite real final breaths, it is becoming clearer in a sense that Renaissance perspective, that Enlightenment values, that this world of “progress”, a Hegelian, patriarchal bourgeois world view that has defined artworks, if we are speaking broadly, is in need of real critical re-examination. What has already happened with automation, and with technology in general (with exceptions…medicine for one) is a recycling of earlier innovations as new brands and with new packaging. For it is all expressive of a logic of domination. The very idea of innovation is likely born of this notion of progress, a christian white male domination, of conquest and of resurrection. So, if I suggest iPhones are linked to colonialism….people might scoff, but I would argue they are linked, and probably in several different ways.


There is this:

Jameson once said that all technologies are allegories of social relations. There is a truth in this. It is obviously over simplyfing this topic, but if computers came to suggest allegorical networks — then it seems quite possible that a genuine potential for emancipation lurks within these new technologies. The internet as a collectivity? Perhaps. In the meantime, there are material class antagonisms. They don’t go away because your new iPad is fun. The creating of desire for newness, for novelty, results in an ever tighter mental cul de sac. Anticipation is deeply rooted in the western psyche now… seasonal commodity offerings, the illusion of difference, the fall signature collection of phone apps, of whatever. It is obsessive compulsive.

Artworks must escape these enclosures, for culture ceases to exist without that step off the plantation.

Tom Clark made this observation on his blog:
“there is something exaggerated, irrational, pathogenic in the present-day relationship to technology. This is connected with the “veil of technology.” People are inclined to take technology to be the thing itself, as an end in itself, a force of its own, and they forget that it is an extension of human dexterity. The means — and technology is the epitome of the means of self-preservation of the human species — are fetishized, because the ends — a life of human dignity — are concealed and removed from the consciousness of the people.”



  1. Argh I say this all the time but there is really so much to respond to. All these posts are like compendia.

    Do you have any thoughts about “Altermodern”, Bourriaud’s recent thing, as a response to enlightened or Hegelian perfectibilian or xtian Progress and its scarcely veiled imperialism?

    About housework though and mechanisation – I think the liberation was surely recuperated into a class stratified and racialised gendered exploitative system, but I don’t think we really can discount that washing machines, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators have, where they are available, been a factor in changing a women’s status. However what is often ignored is that the manufacture of these things and the world they slot into (with different kinds of clothes, ready to wear, also; different kinds of food) becomes the burden which reduces the status of some women while others appropriate this surplus. But we really can’t say there’s nothing about the actual functionality that isn’t TBA by cultural interpretations and deployment. A servant class is cleaning the house of upper classes, whether by being physically there wiedling a broom or by labouring to place a vacuum cleaner (and electricity etc) in the house.

    I remember being amazed when mid to third rung executives stopped employing secretaries due to laptops and emails. But the upper levels retained them. And people whose job was to make sure their time wasn’t wasted who would make the calls and say “‘please hold for Ron Lauder” and create the cues of people waiting to talk. Gigi Levangie writes these glitzy sort of sub Jackie Collins novels that are wealth porn, about the vast wealth of her circle, and in them the heroines – a former ballerina married to a hedge fund manager, say – are really living like downton abbey. While the need for people schlepping water and cleaning fireplaces is reduced, the technology has created more places for servants. But also the servitude is just happening elsewhere.

  2. John Steppling says:

    i have to really formulate my altermodern take. Part of me instinctively supports where that is going — but I need to dig into it more. I do know Zizek in one of his many misreadings of Deleuze was bitching at naomi klien for not grasping that a new capitalism is emerging (all this in that adbusters thing on altermodernism)…..annnnnwayyyy………i think what is interesting vis a vis the vacuum (etc) is that while it made physical toil less brutal, it was part of a reconfiguring of the workplace — and this you touch on with ready made clothes, etc…. and maybe most significantly, the changes in cooking and eating. Im struck with all the time, actually. I cant say I have my mind around it yet, though. But there is no question the debilitating labor of hand washing and scrubbing was made easier…..less disfiguring , but it was part of something else I cant quite grasp yet — a shift in pov for the bourgeois merchants, the rising labor aristocracy, and it was literally a changing pov…a visual shifting and you can see it in how photography changed. But i need to really think more on that. ANd yes yes yes yes about hollywood. See, this is so true. The actual personal secretary…and actually several personal assistants was a sure mark of A list power.

  3. God Zizek is unfailingly disgusting.

    I am thinking also something about robotization that coordinates with a) spectacle and b) the shift of human rights to abstractions (corporations, nations). There is this bizarre disempowerment of a class that used to feel so necessary and capable, the active adult citizens of democracies. Now they feel just powerless; the jests about being wetware for these networked machines, being flesh batteries, tells a lot of truth about how helpless people feel. then the perpetual adolescents this has created dress it up in adventure fantasy. Gullibility is rampant where people really no longer have any idea what is it their own activities work to reproduce.

  4. john steppling says:

    you know, an aspect of this discussion is related to the progressive liberating aspect of some physical work. While doing away with being on your hands and knees scrubbing floors for 12 hours is a plus, Im not sure that some physical labor….just simple physical activity didnt give (at least men) a sort of masculine pride — and its too easy to ridicule that. The sense of courage it took to go into mines etc. Now….this may be irrational…but i was struck a while ago looking at photos of early olympic shooting events in norway……men from the 1900s….lean hard working men….and then today you see this slightly puffy soft bodies…..and i get a sense of their adolescence……they dont look like men. THey seem boys. Outsize bloated boys. Anyway, the labor saving devices didnt just help liberate drudgery, they robbed people of something as well. I dont mean factory toil…..that came about through industrialization and once that happened, work became almost slavery …both mentally and physically. But this class that is so removed from their work…from the product they create, is coupled to this crap nutrition, and an apparatus of air conditioned cubicles…..its just anti human on all levels. I think …whatever one thinks of those guys…henry miller, on to the sixties…paul goodman et al…….they sensed this robbery going on. And then it kicked into high gear after that………..and now people work longer and longer for less real income and the stress is increased and a generation anticipates taking anti depressants and expects this career insecurity…..a job is only a job. Its abstract….its ONLY a paycheck. And so the expression of this numbness, are these psychotic outbreaks of violence. Either the lone teenage gunman, or the returning Iraqi vet, beating up his wife and shooting his neighbors……all these things feel so linked. The powerlessness is compensated for by more and more violent sports, reality TV with these ersatz competitions….the latest one is titled “The Hero”………and here are these goofy made up competitions, and its just self parody on a marco level. And feminism is co-opted by media as the quest to become a CEO for monsanto or something. Nothing is on a human scale any longer. Its exaggerated and inflated but hollow.

  5. Much of what you are discussing and your observations can be said to true about where the art world (business) is today. At some very basic level we fail to value real work, be art, craft, trade or unskilled. Also, we no longer can recognize value and thus we no longer value work…..most likely of any kind. The fracturing of effort, accomplishment and reward changes everything and the control remains in place. As Bruce Sterling points out, ” we still have a map, but it no longer charts the terrain ” Time is changing and so too is our perception of time and its value. ptb

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.