Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Yep. This attitude of being your own little manager of your own life and treating it like an incremental game is horrible.

In James P. Carse's Finite and Infinite Games there one chapter on how the use of machines works both ways. It doesn't only shape the machine but it makes the person more 'machine-like'. In an attempt to operate a machine the person has itself to act mechanical and to comply with the interface of the machine rather than the other way around.

It's I think very evident in the way we communicate today or how everything becomes 'gamified' or even how dating works. Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.




> In an attempt to operate a machine the person has itself to act mechanical and to comply with the interface of the machine rather than the other way around.

I remember an article a while back where archaeologists examined the bones of pre-Columbian women in America. The bones showed the signs of long term debilitating, repetitive work from kneeling and grinding, by hand, corn into flour.

Just last night I watched an American Experience episode on the guy who revolutionized wheat farming. He spent his youth on a farm, harvesting corn by hand, estimating that he'd harvested 1 million ears per season by himself. He was amazed at how wonderful it was to get a machine that mechanized corn harvesting.

I'd much rather mow my lawn with a mower than a pair of scissors.

In the 1960s, my dad was writing a book. My mom would type up the drafts for him. Every new draft meant my mom would spend hours banging it out on the typewriter. Think how much easier that is today with our "dehumanizing" computers. Can you imagine today typing the whole thing over again because you made a misteak?

Machines have largely free'd us from dehumanizing labor, not caused it.


>I'd much rather mow my lawn with a mower than a pair of scissors.

I think you didn't go far enough with the implications of Carse's statement. It's not just that a machine mows your lawn quicker, it's that you have a homogenous lawn in the first place because it is a thing that can mechanically mowed.

For example, why instead of a lawn do more people not have a wild garden, with uneven terrain? Why did everyone feel compelled to put a green square, empty plot of land in front of their houses? is there anything interesting or alive in it, or does it exist because it can be mechanically operated? Given that mowing the lawn is something 'you want to get over with', is it not more accurate to say the lawnmower needs you shoving it around in a system that efficiently maximises lawn-mower production?

To understand the implication of what Carse is saying is to understand that machines don't just enter your environment, they shape your entire perception in a way that makes it conducive to be further operated by machines.

Is living in estranged suburbs with lawns really positive for human flourishing, or is it in a sense the logic of the car and the lawnmower operating on people rather than the other way around?

Is all the corn really part of a diverse diet and ecosystem, or have we adopted the diet because it is the thing that can be mass-produced?


We went to agriculture because otherwise we'd starve. Mechanized agriculture has virtually eliminated starvation. I don't want to live like medieval people did. If you think their lives were better because of no machines, I frankly cannot understand that.

My lawn is mostly wild, I just mow it once a month or so to keep it from being an impenetrable tangle of blackberry pushes about 8 feet high. Cutting those bushes by hand is an exhausting process. I finally got a weed whacker and replaced the string on it with a blade, which knocks them down to a size where the mower can finish them off.

Much as I dislike gardening, I dislike being buried in blackberry bushes even more. I also keep the brush down around the house because it's a fire hazard, and it gives cover for mice to get in the house, and provides avenues for insects to get in the house.

Grass also does a good job of keeping the erosion of the hill I'm on down - blackberries don't. Keeping the grass from going to seed reduces my problems with being allergic to grass pollen.

So yes, there are reasons other than impressing the neighbors.

If I ever do sell the joint, however, I'll have to have it properly landscaped, as I'm sure that'll increase the value of the property far more than it would cost.


Nitpick section:

> We went to agriculture because otherwise we'd starve. (...) If you think their lives were better because of no machines, I frankly cannot understand that.

It's not like that. We were forced to start doing agriculture by competitive pressure; the people who did could conquer the people who didn't. Agriculture essentially gave us everything we consider achievements and civilization, so I'm glad that it happened, but there is a point made by some historians that the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture marked a significant quality-of-life decrease for individuals, and we've only rebounded from that in the last few centuries.

> Mechanized agriculture has virtually eliminated starvation.

+/- supply chains. As we're about to see with COVID-19, just because we can sow and reap efficiently, doesn't mean people won't starve.

--

Anyway, GP's point here isn't that cutting bushes by hand is somehow better - but that the reason most people worry about those bushes, or have a lawn in the first place, is technology. The point may not apply to houses on the countryside, which have to fight off the wilderness for practical reasons. But there's a curious co-dependency between lawnmowers and suburbs. The reason you need a lawnmower is to maintain your lawn. The reason you need to maintain your lawn as a flat sheet of grass is because your HOA wants to make the area look nice (to some standard of aesthetics). The reason they want that is because they can. The reason they can demand that is because cheap and available lawnmowers exist.

If I'm to believe Wikipedia[0], lawnmowers were created to help maintain sports grounds and large gardens. It seems reasonable to call the homogenized looks of modern suburbs to be in big part a side effect of that invention.

--

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawn_mower#History


Hunter-gatherers regularly starve, because food resources are inconsistent. When you get too old to follow the herd with the tribe, you get left behind to die. You get a crippling injury, you get left behind to die. Hunting and killing game is always a high risk activity for injury and death.

Starvation greatly limited the number of humans.

Me, I like consistent, varied, cheap food. I like living in a heated dwelling in winter. I like cotton undies. I like being dry in the rain. I like having teeth that last. I like having corrective lenses. I like disco music. I like my office. I like playing with my hot rod. I like knowing that the doc can likely patch me up if I get injured. I don't want to deal with horses. I like glass windows.

All this complaining about modern technology "dehumanizing" people makes me laugh. It's like complaining about a door ding in your Ferrari.


The way I see it, those are orthogonal concerns. I love the modern world, there isn't a time and place in past history I'd prefer to live in to where and when I'm now. But at the same time, the way how new technology modifies the environment[0] is very interesting and worth a separate consideration. It sometimes does go too far - technology can be dehumanizing, if we're forced to lose some cherished values to accommodate a simpler/cheaper design of a machine / process.

--

[0] - As it must. Technology that doesn't modify its surrounding context is just too hard. Humans have built roads since forever, so that they didn't have to build off-road vehicles. Bureaucracy has to fit everything into its square holes, because otherwise it would be impossible.


I think the point is that if the people agitating about productivity being evil had their way we'd all still be hunter gatherers.

Yes, it may well be that pausing development where we are would be more comfortable for those of us currently alive. But some people find meaning in the advancement of the human condition. That takes real effort, and causes a lot of people short term pain. But permanently making the world a better place for all future generations is a goal worth achieving, IMO.


You reminded me about Jared Diamond’s lamentation on the agricultural revolution [1]. My jaw was dragging on the floor for a full week after reading it!

Cultivating human potential necessitates the leisure that technology gives us. And when actualized, human potential gives not just the world but the cosmos greater beauty. This makes it self-evidently worthwhile.

[1] http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/Thoc/Readings/Diamond_Worst...


It's no surprise that you like what you have; people like whatever it is that they have, whether they originally wanted it or not: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_surprising_science...


Tell that to anyone who is poor in an economic depression. Or anyone who has a serious illness. I once spent three months bedridden from an autoimmune illness. I never once "liked" what I had.


And yet "wartime spirit" is a thing. "We were poor but happy" is a cliche'd phrase for a reason. I'm not going to tell you that you enjoyed your serious illness, but it's not a claim that everyone feels happy all the time (clearly false) or that people wouldn't always change things if they could, it's about what studies repeatedly find from people's self-reported happiness.

That we vastly over estimate how happy success will make us, and how miserable illness and failure will make us. That 6 months after winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic people self-report being equally happy with their lives compared to before. That people become happier when stuck with a thing they can't change, than they do with a thing they feel they can change. That we don't know this about ourselves makes us make choices that make us less happy overall. And that these are surprising results is the reason the talk is worth watching.


I think this is important nuance that I did not address in my comment above this one. It is very true that the problem space of choosing things to maximise happiness is filled with unknowns and hazards.

Thanks, I take no offence and I understand your intention here. It is important to understand that suffering and happiness are not mutually exclusive, and for some people the intersection might be larger for where happiness intersects with suffering than for happiness or suffering by themselves.


> It's no surprise that you like what you have

Of course, as I've gotten rid of stuff I don't like and replaced it with stuff I do.

As a hunter-gatherer, though, I wouldn't have such options.


In the scale of internet discussions, this isn't responding to the strongest form of the claim; yes getting rid of things you dislike and replacing them with things you like feels good, but the claim from Prof. Gilbert is that if you can't get rid of things you dislike, then you change to like them more, is so much more significant.

The idea that, if you were a hunter gatherer and didn't have options you would be less happy is the what the talk and the described research is calling false; instead we demonstrably adjust to become happy when faced with no options, which means people like what they have more than they predicted they would not just because they got to choose it, but even if they couldn't choose it.


[flagged]


> farms in Africa shipping cheap crop to us at the expense

farms are not shipping cheap crops to us at their expense. They are trading.

> reap the rewards of sweatshop labor in China

These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.

And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.


> farms are not shipping cheap crops to us at their expense. They are trading.

I misplaced a word - at the expense of more local options in need of food. Either way I'd hope that'd be assumed, but I fixed it to not leave it to chance.

> These "sweatshops" brought them out of poverty in rural areas - they would've been a subsistence farmer and had less wealth. It feels unfair for them to only be paid pennies for an object that retail for over 50-60 bucks, but that's still better than not having those pennies.

Make no mistake, they're still in poverty. Go ahead, trade with them. I doubt you would. Your life is almost guaranteed to be far better. It wasn't the sweatshops that brought them out of poverty. What brought workers out of poverty in the 1st world was unions and workers rights - not the jobs themselves.

> And eventually, as their wealth accrue and they invest it wisely, their productivity and standards of living grows, and they will no longer accept pennies. I don't see why that's so wrong, and the people complaining about this problem just conveniently ignores that almost all of their wealth of products and services comes from this process.

This assumes endless growth - an ideal, and assumes that everyone shares in that wealth equally. We know that is definitely not true. Eventually if everyone says "we shall all be paid as our 1st world counterparts", the cost of goods increases, less people buy, and the wealth vanishes, largely because it has been centralized.

This attitude also ignores the impending doom of climate change. People think everything is fine until it's not. It's foolish to think there will not be war, disease, famine in the 21st century. And technology will make it deadlier than ever.


Thinking it's technology doing that is a mistake. It's people doing that. Like the folks who ruined their Easter Island environment.

Technology has also saved us from environmental disasters. Whaling was stopped when oil was found. The denuding of trees from the landscape stopped when coal was discovered. (It's still going on in the Amazon, sadly.)


That's why in my OP I said:

> Technology can be dehumanizing, or very humanizing. It's up to us to curate it properly. Endless advancement in the name of technology will simply destroy the human race.

Whaling largely stopped because of regulation and social factors, not technology, just like cutting down trees - it can be sustainable if you simply do not cut down all the trees in an area, replant, etc. This is an example of curation of technology.


I think I'll have to disagree with you here. The way I understood history, "regulation and social factors" only happened because an alternative to whale oil was found. To an arguably large degree, social progress is a consequence of technological breakthroughs.

In general, and simplifying the dynamics a bit, I'd say this: what happens in a society is constrained to what makes economic sense. You can attempt change (e.g. get whaling banned), but you will not succeed when the economic pressures go strongly against you (e.g. there's no substitute for whale oil and demand is large, so regulations will not happen because of a combination of lobbying and international competition). Your society is always limited to what economics allow, and the way you reshape that economic landscape is through technology. You find substitute for whaling oil. Or a better fuel than wood. Or (upcoming invention) develop lab-grown meat that's competitive to regular one - I bet that vegans will think it was their activism that achieved a future without factory farming, but the way I see it, once we crack lab-grown meat, factory farming will be gone in a blink of an eye.

Another example I like: there were many attempts at reforming the Catholic church in the past, but the one that succeeded happened after the printing press was invented, which let reformatist ideas spread far and wide before the church could contain them.


> It seems reasonable to call the homogenized looks of modern suburbs to be in big part a side effect of that invention.

Europe has lawn mowers too, but people still don't live in soulless unwalkable dystopian suburbs as Americans. It has to do with a lot more than automation. It's partially crimes, partially race relations, inequality, crime, a cultural desire for large living space deriving from manifest destiny and the dream of the wild west, extreme individualism, sparse population etc.


> is there anything interesting or alive in it

I watch the robins foraging for worms on mine. I can look out the window and see fat bumblebees lazily weave among the patches of clover in the late morning. In the afternoon, I get to see my child scrambling across it looking for dandelion flowers to make a bouquet.

If it were a wild garden, we'd have none of that, and I'd have much worse insect (ticks, mosquitoes) and deer problems.

I enjoy the sight of my small mini-field. The wilderness brings me disease and pestilence, which I'd prefer to keep at a distance from where my family rests their heads.

I'll take the mower, thank you.


Yeah, I forgot to mention that mowing gets rid of the lyme disease ticks, too.


That may be true, man-made global warming is linked to a large increase in tick populations and disease is rapidly increasing from them.

> The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of tick-borne diseases is increasing at a record pace while the geographic range of ticks continues to expand. Lyme disease is the most commonly known tick-borne disease, but other diseases, such as ehrlichiosis and STARI, have been discovered and the list of tick-related illnesses continues to grow.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/05/22/tick-popul...


> I think you didn't go far enough with the implications of Carse's statement. It's not just that a machine mows your lawn quicker, it's that you have a homogenous lawn in the first place because it is a thing that can mechanically mowed.

This is a bit like Fussell's observation that glass or mirrored surfaces signal wealth because they imply you don't clean your own house.


Not everything is a dichotomy. Technology has certainly massively improved our lives, but that doesn't mean one cannot point out that there are also drawbacks.


That's why I wrote "largely free'd us", not "absolutely 100% in every case free'd us".


Well, every situation could be seen as an advance considering the precedent conditions: Tolstoi's wife had to copy in handwriting "War and Peace". Three times. Corollary: It's easy to be a writer when you have a wife.


> Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.

Solution: make the computer better. On another note, what do we as a society want?

A. Society wants to survive for as long as it can.

Many decisions don't make much sense. Shouldn't reproduction be considered a crime as optimal population stands at 2-4 billion. If climate change progresses, we would all be dead sooner than later. And more people means more need for energy and construction and everything that accelerates climate change. We defy natural selection as well which we shouldn't given we don't need many people to begin with. Unemployment and automation - you wouldn't have to face that if there were only productive people. Only like 1% of people produce content on the internet, 99% are consumers. If we have less baggage, we would be able to do much more research and don't worry about trivial problems as those are solved through automation. There will be no need for UBI as low skilled folks don't exist. If someone doesn't want to help society survive for longer, they aren't needed.

That's not how the current world works so I am guessing A is partially false.

B. Society wants to survive as long as it can while enjoying hedonism to the fullest.

Might be true. I can't quantify the balance.

C. Survival is a zero sum game and there are many smaller societies coexisting like a network. Competition results in opposite ends for everyone.

This would explain the irrational wars.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: