Notes on Technology & Society

[Last updated 08. December 2023]

Lewis Mumford on Clocks §

For the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.

Lewis Mumford, 1934: “Technics and Civilization”

The bells of the clock tower almost defined urban existence. Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing … The clock, moreover, is a piece of power-machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science. There is relatively little foundation for this belief in common human experience: throughout the year the days are of uneven duration, and not merely does the relation between day and night steadily change … In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer span of days, time is measured not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it … To become ‘as regular as clock-work’ was the bourgeois ideal, and to own a watch was for long a definite symbol of success … By now Western peoples are so thoroughly regimented by the clock that it is ‘second nature’ and they look upon its observance as a fact of nature.

Externalizing Inconvenience §

The ease of same-day-delivery, the ease of micro-conveniences are presented as colorful disruptions of atrophied systems and as technological achievements. In reality, these conveniences rely on the exploitation of manual labor abstracted by the illusion of the digital interface. […]

If things are easy for you, they are hard for someone else. Digital infrastructure created a deep stack of layered systems that detach us from our transactional partners. Instead of the direct exchange of money for labor, we accept our conveniences as a function of technology. […]

Our interfaces are polished and seamless enough to hide the fact that we are not using a service, but externalizing inconveniences to other humans. We have returned to having service personnel, without offering compensation related to the labor rendered or any further commitments of being an employer. […]

In this context, user interface design is complicit in making luxury conveniences seem like normal aspects of a modern life. Using these interfaces is using technology in a socially regressive way – we are using technology against others.

Malte Müller, 2023: “Externalizing inconvenience”. In “Opposing convenience”