Op-Ed by Neenah Payne
“Once upon a time, when Windows were holes in a room and an Application was written on paper. When a Keyboard was on a Piano and a Mouse was an animal. When File was an office cabinet and a Hard Drive was an uncomfortable road trip. When Cut was done with knife and Paste with glue. When Web was a spider’s home and a Virus caused the flu. When Apple and Blackberry were just fruits….That’s when we had a lot of time for family and friends.” Source unknown
My father, an educated man, died in 1972. He studied six years of Latin in high school. He graduated from Dartmouth and became an MD (General Practitioner). He was a voracious reader who loved poetry and was a wordsmith. However, I often consider how lost he would be in today’s world. He would know that we are still speaking English, but there would be SO many words he would not understand – and others he would misunderstand.
Today’s English is SO different from that of just 20 years ago that anyone who died in the 20th century and could return now would find it almost as difficult to understand as Elizabethan English. However, it took hundreds of years for English to evolve from that period. Now, it has morphed in just two decades.
The names “Steve Jobs” and “Bill Gates” – titans of our age – would have no meaning for my father. Yet, they have redefined and indelibly shaped our world. People are now so obsessed with their iPhones that “distracted walking” and “distracted driving” are causing a growing number of accidents. When people meet to socialize, they often stare into their cellphones in an obsession accepted as normal behavior. So, technology is changing not only our language – but our behavior and interactions. It has enhanced our productivity, is challenging our economy in ways few people realize – and is redefining who we are.
Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea by Carter Phipps shows the key role of language for individuals and cultures. Since language influences how we understand reality, the radical shift in our language in just 20 years reflects a dramatic shift in our experience of the world. We are moving increasingly from a physical world to a virtual one.
Words Common Today That My Father Wouldn’t Understand
These words — which are part of our everyday vocabulary — would be incomprehensible to my father.
My father would think he understood what the following words mean – but he would not realize that we are using them in a very different way today. Even the word “Word” would mislead him!
Since 1940, we have gone from huge computers like the ENIAC that filled a whole room, to mainframes in the 1970s, desktops at work in the 1980s, personal computers (PCs) at home in the 1990s, laptops, and now tablets like the iPad. We have gone from flip phones in the 1990s to the iPhone in 2007.
However, the iPhone is not just a phone. It is a world that can obsess us so much that it takes top priority in our lives. It has the paradox of both connecting us to a wide circle of friends —and isolating/alienating us from those closest to us. Parents walk down the street lost in lengthy conversations while their kids tag along ignored and longing for attention.
The virtual world has become so compelling with Facebook, Twitter, texting, email, apps, music, photos, calls, and access to the Web. The iPhone provides us with GPS, allows us to pay our bills without a credit card – and Siri answers our questions! Our cellphone charms us with photos and entertains us with games and videos. That can make a mere human being seem hardly worthy of our attention!
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle says: “Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends, and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But this relentless connection leads to a deep solitude….as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.”
We are speaking a new language – reflecting a reality that continues to evolve at an ever-increasing rate. Many of us behave in ways now that would have seemed bizarre just a few years ago. We cannot imagine our lives now without Google, YouTube, cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
We’re living in a world now that none of us would have recognized – or even believed – just 20 years ago. Where are we headed – and is that where we want to go? Robots are increasingly looking, talking, and acting like us – and taking our jobs! How far will that go? Why Giving Robots (Objects) Citizenship Is Crazy. Ray Kurzweil assures us that the “singularity” is near and that the next step in human evolution is for us to become part computer. We are redefining what it means to be human – and what a “being” is.
Facebook is working on a “computer-brain interface” that will allow us to type just by thinking! Are there any dangers in the growing emergence of artificial intelligence? Are we on a runaway train? Many people don’t care that we are surrendering more and more of our privacy and losing our freedoms in the physical world to increasing surveillance. Corporatocractic Surveillance Just Got One Step More Invasive. Will the world we are rushing toward be one in which humans can survive? Are we making ourselves obsolete? Will we have to justify our employment – our existence? Is technology a Trojan Horse we have welcomed into our world – not noticing dangers lurking inside?
Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us by Bill Joy, co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, was published by Wired magazine in 2000. He had become alarmed after meeting Ray Kurzweil in 1998. Joy warned: “Accustomed to living with almost routine scientific breakthroughs, we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies — robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology — pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate.”
The 2016 book The Circle by Dave Eggers and the 2017 film The Circle based on the book offer clues to the dangers that the convenience of technology hides. The book and film have opposite endings – so pick the vision of the future you like! One unmistakable screen shot near the end of the film reveals that the “circle” refers to the new Apple campus!
In the 2016 video Disruptive Technologies and the Sharing Economy, Dan Doctoroff, CEO, Sidewalk Labs points out that we are now going through the fourth technological revolution. The first was the steam engine. The second was electricity. The third was the car. The fourth is the Internet.
It’s also important to point out the many changes that electricity made possible including trains, subways, radio, TV, refrigerators, ovens, telephones, indoor plumbing, elevators, and skyscrapers. We should also not forget how the light bulb, public education, and bridges revolutionized our lives. The Brooklyn Bridge, finished in 1883, was the world’s first suspension bridge.
While technology has brought a world of convenience, it has also undermined our privacy and increased surveillance. As robots become increasingly more human-like, so many jobs are being threatened that there is discussion of the need to provide everyone with a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI).
However, work provides us with more than money. Our jobs, professions, and careers are a core sense of our identity and a source of pride as we are paid for our contributions, skills, and accomplishments. As Tom Slee says in the YouTube video 10 Questions on the Sharing Economy linked to further below, we have three core roles: workers, consumers, and citizens.
However, with the “singularity” popularized by Ray Kurzweil, our identities, the essence of what it means to be human, is also being challenged in new ways. Will Facebook’s Brain-Computer Interface require a chip implant? The dangers of Artificial Intelligence are legend as Bill Joy warned in 2000.
While we celebrate the advances of technology, we are well advised to take the time to also consider the many hidden downsides.
Sharing Economy: Third Wave of the Internet
Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, explains in the video below that the First Wave of the Internet was “stuff online” — books on Amazon, classifieds on Craigslist. The Second Wave was Social Media that allowed people to connect via Facebook and Twitter. The Third Wave is the Sharing Economy which is moving people offline into the real world. Depending on whom you ask, the Sharing Economy is wonderful – or a real disaster.
- Chesky, of course, sees the positive side: “The stuff that matters in life is no longer stuff. It’s other people. It’s relationships. It’s experience.” Today, March 29, 2013. In the 2015 video Impact of the Sharing Economy on Real Estate, Chesky says the main reason people host is to make connections with others.
- The 2014 TEDx talk What is the sharing economy and why does it matter? explains how the Sharing Economy reflects a shift from taking to giving and helps foster a greater sense of community.
- The 2014 TEDx talk Creating Opportunity Through the Sharing Economy shows how the Sharing Economy freed the speaker from a job where she felt like a drone to take on an empowering opportunity with Lyft. She says the Sharing Economy gives people the freedom to quit and unlock their productive power.
Back to the Future
The 2010 book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers was an important book for the Sharing Economy because it helped define the movement. It points out that the Sharing Economy, in some ways, represents a re-volution in the sense of turning back to the past to an early 20th century mindset.
When Chesky told his grandfather about the idea behind Airbnb, “It seemed totally normal to him. My parents had a different reaction. I could not figure out why at first.” Chesky later realized that his parents grew up in the hotel generation, whereas his grandfather and his friends would stay on farms and in little houses during their travels. Airbnb is not very different from that experience. “We are not the modern invention, hotels are.” Indeed, prior to the 1950s, staying with friends or friends of friends was a common way to travel. Airbnb is an old idea, being replicated and made relevant again through peer-to-peer networks and new technologies.
Functional Medicine is part of this “re-volution”, a movement that is rediscovering concepts lost in the 20th century. It is going “Back to the Future” as “supra-generalists” replace specialists. As a General Practitioner, my father would have appreciated that! Many Functional Medicine MDs have also cut out insurance companies that took over medicine in the mid-20th century. Patients pay the MDs on a subscription basis to save money and to allow doctors to control the care they provide.
The 2016 book The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism is by Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Amazon says:
What is new, in the “sharing economy,” is that you are not helping a friend for free; you are providing these services to a stranger for money. Arun Sundararajan…explains the transition to what he describes as “crowd-based capitalism”…..As peer-to-peer commercial exchange blurs the lines between the personal and the professional, how will the economy, government regulation, what it means to have a job, and our social fabric be affected? Sundararajan explains the basics of crowd-based capitalism.
In the 2016 video The Sharing Economy and the Future of Digital Governance, Sundararajan discusses these topics during a talk at Google. He shows that Airbnb is no longer a fringe activity. Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, has 1.1 million rooms while Airbnb has 3 million listings. So, it is now the world’s largest provider of short-term accommodations.
Sundararajan points out that the crowd-based initiatives are starting to become platform-based world-class, mainstream centers of the economy that are alternatives to the traditional corporate model of the aggregate provision of goods and services. The Sharing Economy now constitutes over half the GDP of a number of advanced countries.
Sundararajan says that the transformation that we saw in publishing, advertising, music, and videos is now coming to the physical world.
However, the Sharing Economy also has a growing number of critics and it’s important to consider what they say in evaluating this newest “revolution”.
Disadvantages of the Sharing Economy
- The 2015 TEDx talk How the ‘sharing economy’ disrupts civilization discusses the often overlooked downsides of the Sharing Economy.
- Real Time with Bill Maher: The “Sharing” Economy trashes Airbnb and sharing your apartment/home.
- Time’s 2015 cover story: 5 Things You Never Knew About the Sharing Economy.
Amazon says about the 2017 book What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy by Tom Slee:
The news is full of their names, supposedly the vanguard of a rethinking of capitalism. Lyft, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Uber, and many more companies have a mandate of disruption and upending the “old order”— and they’ve succeeded in effecting the “biggest change in the American workforce in over a century,” according to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
But this new wave of technology companies is funded and steered by very old-school venture capitalists. And in What’s Yours Is Mine, technologist Tom Slee argues the so-called sharing economy damages development, extends harsh free-market practices into previously-protected areas of our lives, and presents the opportunity for a few people to make fortunes by damaging communities and pushing vulnerable individuals to take on unsustainable risk. Drawing on original empirical research, Slee shows that the friendly language of sharing, trust, and community masks a darker reality.
People who have looked only at the positive side of the Sharing Economy will be shocked by Canadian Tom Slee’s book What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. Slee says:
I wrote this book because the Sharing Economy agenda appeals to ideals with which I and many others identify; ideals such as equality, sustainability, and community. The Sharing Economy continues to have the support and allegiance of many progressive-minded people—particularly young people who identify strongly with the technologies they use—who are having their best instincts manipulated and who will be betrayed.
The Sharing Economy is invoking those ideals to build massive private fortunes, to erode real communities, to encourage a more entitled form of consumerism, and to create a future that is more precarious and more unequal than ever. There are others who see no contradiction between a social movement and private for-profit firms: these are the believers in “Benefit Corporations” and other forms of enlightened capitalism, who are thick on the ground in the San Francisco Bay area where the Sharing Economy has its home. I hope to convince some of these that the Sharing Economy is failing to deliver on their hopes. Video Interview
Slee is interviewed in the YouTube 2014 video 10 Questions on the Sharing Economy which says:
From Airbnb to Uber, Ontarians have fully embraced the sharing economy. This new way of driving, vacationing, purchasing and living has shaken up the traditional market, but what exactly does it mean? The Agenda welcomes Tom Slee, author of “What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy,” for 10 questions on this economy of collaborative consumption.
Slee points out: “….there are at least two visions of the Sharing Economy: the first is the communitarian and co-operative vision focused on small-scale personal exchanges. The second is the disruptive, globe-straddling ambition of companies with billions of dollars to spend challenging democratically-made laws around the world, acquiring competitors in search of scale, and (in Uber’s case) researching new technologies to render its work force obsolete. If the former vision can be called “what’s mine is yours,” I think of the latter as ‘what’s yours is mine.'”
Slee adds: “What this all comes down to is that, while the Sharing Economy is often presented as a diverse set of commercial and non-commercial initiatives around the world (from tool-exchange co-ops to pet-sitting and so on), this presentation is a bit misleading. The Sharing Economy is almost entirely a small number of technology firms backed by large amounts of venture capital.”
Sharing Economy: New Feudalism?
In his 2015 article in The Nation called What the Sharing Economy Takes, Doug Henwood points out: “Uber and Airbnb monetize the desperation of people in the post-crisis economy while sounding generous—and evoke a fantasy of community in an atomized population.”
Henwood discusses Airbnb’s contradictions: “The most prominent examples of the sharing economy are a taxi-hailing service called Uber and a real-estate-subletting service called Airbnb….Brian Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb, uses words like ‘revolution’ and ‘movement’ to describe his company, which is now valued at $13 billion—making Airbnb the best-capitalized revolutionary movement in history.”
Henwood exposes some Uber myths as he points out: “Now, technology is making it easier for you to hail a taxi—in a way that’s taking down the already low incomes of ‘incumbent’ cabbies… it’s going to make only a few people rich.”
Henwood is interviewed at: https://soundcloud.com/upstreampodcast/doug-henwood-interview
Henwood critiques TaskRabbit: “Many Taskers are people who had good jobs until the recession hit; as of last year, 70 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and 5 percent a PhD. Now they’re running around town fetching stuff.”
The video There’s no sharing in the sharing economy offers a scathing critique and links to the work of several others including Tom Slee’s article Why The Sharing Economy Isn’t. It also links to the article Against Sharing by Avi Asher-Schapiro who points out: “’Sharing economy’ companies like Uber shift risk from corporations to workers, weaken labor protections, and drive down wages…. There’s nothing innovative or new about this business model. Uber is just capitalism, in its most naked form.”
In AirBnb is a rental economy, not a sharing economy, Giorgos Kallis says: “I have many friends in Barcelona who have experienced a total transformation of their apartment blocks, suddenly finding themselves alone within AirBnb rentals, unable to sleep from the parties of weekend travelers. Rental prices in the centre of Barcelona are sky-rocketing, as owners find it more profitable to rent on AirBnb than hold long-term leases.”
Decline of the American Worker Since 1970s
Is the Sharing Economy driven by the desperation of Americans whose wages have remained flat since the 1970s? Dr. Richard Wolff shows that while technology has allowed Americans to become much more productive, the increases were not shared with workers. The profits went to management.
Dr. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a Visiting Professor at the New School in New York. His weekly hour-long radio program Economic Update on WBAI (Pacifica Radio) is broadcast live on 75 stations. He writes regularly for The Guardian, Truthout.org, and MRZine. Earlier Wolff taught economics at Yale University (1967-1969) and at the City College of the City University of New York (1969-1973). In 1994, he was a Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Paris (France), (Sorbonne). He is also regular lecturer at the Brecht Forum in New York City. Prof Wolff’s website is at: http://www.rdwolff.com/
The third video below shows that Americans began working 20% more hours in the 1970s because our wages have been flat since then — while the rest of the industrialized world has been working 20% less! While American workers produced more since the 1970s, our wages stayed flat — providing profits for employers. Wolff says that this is the greatest profit boom in American capitalism — and possibly in any capitalism! But it wasn’t shared with the workers who produced it.
The 2015 film The Big Short shows that while Wall Street made billions of dollars, millions of people lost their homes in the crash of the housing market in 2007. The world continues to reel from the ongoing results.
Corporations and banks discovered that they could make more money by lending workers money at high interest rates. They had money to lend because they were not paying the workers for their increased productivity and the resulting profits. People were desperate to borrow because their wages had remained flat. However, the video explains that we have reached the limits of this kind of capitalism because many Americans cannot work more and have maxed out credit limits.
While Airbnb and Uber are the poster kids of the Sharing Economy, there are complaints that Airbnb is destroying communities around the world and that Uber exploits its drivers. Is a better kind of Sharing Economy possible?
Professor Richard Wolff: Democracy At Work
Professor Wolff points out that the world’s 68 richest people (mostly Americans including Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) have more money that the lower 50% of the world’s population – about 3.5 billion people! If the wealth of the richest were cut in half, they would STILL have more than the bottom half of humanity!
Professor Wolff explains that global capitalism collapsed in 2008. The US was on the verge of a total shutdown. Today’s crisis is capitalism’s worst since the Great Depression. He says people across the spectrum now agree that the US economy today is the worst it has been in decades and any talk of a recovery is bogus.
Prof Wolff shows that there is a very powerful movement around the world and across the country to create a more equitable, democratic economy – through workers controlling the firms, sharing in making the decisions about what and where the firm produces as well as how the profits are distributed. Included in those decisions is whether to replace human beings with robots. This is the real Sharing Economy! He calls it Democracy At Work.
Economist Richard Wolff on Capitalism Run Wild [interview by Bill Moyers – followed by Video #2]
Shift Change – Putting Democracy to Work [film shows examples of Prof. Wolff’s solution: worker co-ops]
Capitalism, Socialism, Trumpism, Neoliberalism
Richard Wolff Presents Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism
While others blame corrupt bankers … the authors show that the causes of the crisis run much deeper. They reach back to the 1970s when the capitalist system itself shifted, ending the century-old pattern of rising wages for U.S. workers and thereby enabling the top 1% to become ultra-rich at the expense of the 99%.…. Occupying the Economy…points toward solutions that can shape a far better future for all.
It is not inevitable that robots take our jobs – or that we become robots. In a real Sharing Economy, these decisions will be made wisely in a way that serves all of humanity and not to enrich a few at the expense of many. See the short informative interview: Richard D. Wolff on Real Time with Bill Maher.
Our World Is De-Materializing
The pros and cons of the shifts in technology can be debated. However, there is no doubt that our world is going increasingly virtual and de-materializing faster and faster. When the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was dedicated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, it was considered a “Giant Brain”. It was 1,000 times faster than electro-mechanical machines; contained 17,500 vacuum tubes linked by 500,000 soldered connections, filled a 50-foot basement, and weighed 30 tons. The cost was equivalent to $6,740,000 today.
The ENIAC had no memory. In 1996, in honor of the ENIAC’s 50th anniversary, the University of Pennsylvania sponsored “ENIAC-on-a-Chip”. A very small silicon computer chip was built with the same functionality as ENIAC. Although this 20 MHz chip was many times faster than ENIAC, it had a fraction of the speed of its contemporary microprocessors in the late 1990s. The processor frequency for the iPhone 8 is 2,390 MHz (2.4 GHz).
In about 60 years, we went from room-size computers of little power to mainframes, to desktops, to laptops, and now tablets and cellphones. Our LPs and CDs have disappeared into iTunes and our radios into Spotify. Our films are now on Netflix and Amazon. Our books disappeared onto our Kindles and many people read their newspapers on their PCs – or get their news from Facebook on their phones rather than from TV or radio.
Our cameras, recorders, and camcorders are now on our cellphones along with our watches and calculators. In addition, we have countless apps that let us check everything from the weather, to whether our train/plane is on time, how our stocks are doing, etc. At home, we can ask Alexa to play our favorite songs, order products from Amazon, turn lights on and off, and perform a growing number of tasks.
We can take a photo with our cellphone and send it immediately to a group with text messages. Baby Boomers remember that photos had to be developed in a dark room or sent to photo shop where it would take a week to get them back – often with disappointing results! With a cellphone, you can see if a photo isn’t good and take another. Online shopping at Amazon is replacing brick-and-mortar stores and closing malls across America.
In under 10 years, our world has disappeared into our cellphones! They are so amazing that it is no wonder people can’t take their eyes off of them! Our photos and data (our memories) are stored in the cloud. Will we ourselves (our own memory) disappear next into the virtual world? There is a discussion that our consciousness can be uploaded! If You Upload Your Mind to the Cloud—Would You Still Be You?
From Physical to Virtual: Shift to Energy Age
In The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism, Arun Sundararajan contrasts “asset-heavy” generations of the past to the “asset-light” generation of today. As the physical world goes increasingly virtual, it is dematerializing into energy. The four technological revolutions (steam engine, electricity, car, Internet) reflect that energetic shift as do the three waves of the Internet from “stuff online” to Social Media to the Sharing Economy.
This growing shift of dematerialization into energy is part of a larger cycle that is rarely discussed but has profound impacts on our consciousness. In the West, the Shift of the Ages that we are going through now is known as the transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. However, in India, this shift is seen as part of the Yugas Cycle as we move from Kali Yuga (Iron Age) to Dwapara Yuga, (Energy Age).
As our world becomes increasingly virtual and we find our jobs being taken by robots, our memories (photos and data) disappearing into the cloud, and the possibility of merging with robots – or even having our selves uploaded – the question of identity becomes more central.
The article What Makes You You? reports: “Philosopher John Locke’s memory theory of personal identity suggests that what makes you you is your memory of your experiences … This suggests a new theory we’ll call The Data Theory, which says that you’re not your physical body at all. Maybe what makes you you is your brain’s data—your memories and your personality…. In this way, what you are is not really a thing as much as a story, or a progression, or one particular theme of person.”
As our world continues to shift at an ever-increasing speed, knowing who we are becomes more important because it allows us to understand the choices we face and determine our best options.
The Skingularity Is Near
Author William Henry explains in his video The Skingularity Is Near: “We are living THE TURNING POINT all of history has been rushing towards. The future of humanity IS IN OUR hands.”
William shows that we face a choice between the future Ray Kurzweil, Facebook, and Google envision in a merger with machines – or a more human future. The title of his free ebook The Skingularity Is Near is a play on Kurzweil’s prediction that the singularity (merger with machines) is near. William points out that people really need to be aware of the choice we are making now because there is no turning back!!
Henry explains that we have a choice between a merger with technology or remaining human. He says that in 2002, the high-tech Titans gathered in Hawaii for a conference in which the US government said that by 2035, it wanted four technologies — computer science, nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genetic technology – to become one. This shift is called “Transhumanism”. Henry says that the goal now is no longer to have this technology by 2035 – but by 2020!
Kurzweil’s (Google’s) plan is to create a synthetic neo-cortex! When their chip is implanted in our heads, it will link our brain to all the other human minds on the planet to create a true Hive Mind — the word the government used in the report of the conference! Henry explains that if we go down that road, Free Will goes out the window!
Henry warns that the ultimate plan is to convince us that we really don’t want/need a physical body because it requires maintenance, gets sick, ages, etc. The high-tech vision of our future is that the contents of your brain will be scanned to create an Avatar copy of you that will live forever in a simulated reality. We, ourselves, will dematerialize.
Is that the future you want?