Here at the Galaxy, we have taken a moment to step back and watch the parade of media pundits, soothsayers and prophets of doom commenting on everything from the fate of the planet and the democracy to the condition of the Bachelor after a freak accident and will he return. Instead of diving into this chaff to look for a grain of wheat we have decided to step back and to try to make the kindest choice we could for this week. This week we ask you to take a moment out of your day and click for a donation to the Hunger Site, a not for profit whose clicks go to feed those in need. While there are those who have told me that the site is a scam, perhaps now we need to live in the hope that each of us can make a difference. Please take a moment, donate with a click. Perhaps in crazy times the sanest thing we can do is help one another.
Let’s cut to the chase, we know that technology changes society. The idea of disruptive innovation has been around for a while but while – that being that innovations disrupt markets is not carried over to the idea that technology also disrupts society seems to be glossed over as a cost of business. Yet as technology continues to change the parameters of our existence, it doesn’t seem to take into account the human cost which, as long as we cannot profit from it (yet) can either not be measured or be something to be concerned with. But how are we to go on when all the guideposts we were given have been bleached out by the ever-increasing glare of technology. We try to order our life by rituals by moments in time that we attach importance no longer seem to matter. Growing up we were taught that certain things were important, having dinner together as a family, a basic connection to one another, and a common agreement as to what was important. However, technology seems to have erased our past like footsteps in the sand. While my childhood weekends were spent outside riding my bike to a friends house, playing games with the neighborhood kids coming home only when the street lights came on at night.
Today, my kids spend their weekends in their rooms glued to their screens, watching life as opposed to living it. Friends are spoken to online, no need for face to face interactions. The ideas some of us may have been raised with have now become quaint museum pieces. A job isn’t something that you have for life, there is no 40-year watch on your retirement any more (I still have my grandfather’s watch given to him on his retirement) but it has become a transitory relationship, a landing point till something else comes along. Friends are not people but clicks on Facebook pages. Why experience something when we can see it from the safety of our room- as there are no new frontiers, at least we can watch the reruns of the old ones.
And yet, how are we to understand this recreated world when we find ourselves lost in a hall of mirrors, where all our maps have become obsolete. We cant raise our children to hope for a better life than what we had as everything is so different we don’t know what is to come. We dare not put a value on anything for the future may convert our diamonds into handfuls of dust. What else to explain this old white man rage, this shaking fist at a furious rate of change that could leave them in a cloud of irrelevance. Our octagenarian leaders sit wag their double chins at the marvels that the computer age has brought, both creating and destroying. Media brings us a constant barrage of dystopian messages only serve as a signal of the old orders distrust of the future and the loss of their value. Hopefully, that marking will too fall by the wayside like a bleached out road sign in the desert.
You may remember the name Alan Funt and the catchphrase, “You’re on Candid Camera!” For those uninitiated, Candid Camera is an American hidden camera/practical joke reality television series that involved concealing cameras filming ordinary people being confronted with unusual situations, sometimes involving trick props, when the joke was revealed, victims would be told the show’s catchphrase, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera.” It seems now that Alan Funt should be the next Mayor of London, as it has become the surveillance capital of the world. With one camera for every 14 people in the city, it is thought that you may be seen by as many as 300 cameras in one day. Now while the accepted idea has been that this surveillance was in place to reduce crime it seems that only 3% of the crimes are solved using closed-circuit television.
So why are Londoners being recorded everywhere they go, more than anywhere else on earth. One may also ask the same reason why Google and other internet companies are tracking us. While the idea that this is solely so that companies can market their products and services to us does sound plausible, the fact is they are tracking our every move, as a recent New York Times article noted, you are being tracked almost every moment of the day to almost your exact latitude and longitude. Now while it would be pretty to think that this is all to give us the convenience of having what someone else thinks we might need brought to us, it begs the question, is this anything that we as humans really need? Is there not something to be said for the quest of anything in one’s life? By the same measure, what is the need for Londoners to be tracked from place to place? Unfortunately, the more plausible truth is that someone is profiting off all of these transactions, either in financial currency or in the manipulation of power. You can control people by controlling the options that they have to choose from and by manipulating the ideas of what is acceptable to be “safe”. Anyone who has children has used the , a method of controlling the choices of a child to make them feel as if they have power over a very controlled outcome, for example, “You can wear either the red or the blue t-shirt to school” rather than a myriad of choices. While we may not like the idea that we are being controlled like children, we should like even less than we are being surveilled to also keep us under control. Surveillance is expensive and why should we be surprised that London, the financial capital of the world, the wealthy are doing everything to keep their status protected. You can control what you can predict, and how do we learn to predict but by watching past behavior.
Now there are those who may think this is all being too cynical but then, what would be the other choice, that we are being watched over by benevolent machines and the wealthy whose concern is our highest good? Yes, that must be it…
At times in life, we all need to step back and reevaluate where we are, what we are doing and the functions of things in our life. It seems with the announcing that Peloton had announced losses as it was filing for its IPO, that perhaps we need to rethink the idea of what role a corporation has in our society and economy. For those who might have missed the news, Pelton, in making its move to publicly trade its stock had to make public its finances which showed that it had losses of $196 million dollars. Yet, why should we be concerned, stated the company is “so much more” than a maker of fitness equipment” in short going on to say that Pelton helps people exercise which makes them happy so by extension, Pelton is selling happiness.
With that small matter of insolvency brushed aside like the brow sweat from a brisk walk to the refrigerator, the article goes on to detail the plans the company has to sell its financially, if not morally, bankrupt company. And why should we be surprised? We have had a TV show about nothing, so why not have a company about nothing other than redistributing its wealth from the shareholders, to the management. Studying economics in my youth, we were taught that a corporation was there to provide goods and services to its customers, with that role later changing to add the idea of bringing value to the shareholders. As time has gone on that role has shifted again, now some seem to treat consumers with contempt, look at the continued outrages over poor or non-existent customer service or the opioid crisis basically occurred as companies put profit over people. Now while the courts are finally bringing big pharma to task, here comes Pelton, boldly saying, you want to be happy, give us your money. It will be interesting to see going forward if people will buy into this new fiasco or if they will realize that the emperor has no clothes and all of our money will not buy him any.
Here at the Galaxy, we try to keep a cool head, the Dow drops 800 points, we shrug. People put in cages, we don’t flinch. People of colour being used for target practice- what is new, we say. It was only the discovery of a BBC blog, How Much of Your Body is Your Own? that really made us stop and think. Once you enter some basic information, your birthday, height and weight, you can get an idea of the number of minerals in your body and the relative value of your body- elementally speaking. With the hydrogen in my body worth $1,147 – it got us thinking. As our capitalist system is based on the idea of exploiting resources since we are exploiting the earth’s natural resources, why are we not exploiting the human resources literally at our fingertips? (The very title of the article makes us clear, how much of our body is our own- perhaps we are just borrowing it from the powers that be) Why should we tax corporations to provide a universal living wage so that we can continue to purchase the dross they provide us with when we can exploit our own personal wealth to keep the system going? We are finding ways to renegotiate our life support wages, paying weekly as opposed to bi-weekly so that we have the cash to spend sooner- life is short after all- and we already have a system in place for collateral-based loans, why not use our bodies as our collateral? Indeed, for many of us, they are truly the only value that we have if we don’t have the education, inherited wealth or power or good fortune to become a YouTube sensation for our ability earn clicks or tweets.
We have two kidneys, why not pawn one or better yet sell one so that we can have the latest I phone or pay our rent. Why not get an advance on the value of the elements in our bodies so that we can continue to keep the ever-upward spiral of capitalism going? We can already make a market in bone marrow, hair and even feces so why not? In fact, why should we not farm body parts as we farm the earth, we already sell our plasma and our blood, why not kidneys, livers and even body parts to those who can pay for them? We are already doing it when we are dead but why wait when we can still purchase things- honestly, isn’t that what we are here for?
The article on the new servant class was enough to stop us in our tracks. For those who might have missed it, the article details how the new economy is creating more and more service jobs for the wealthy. The term for these new servants is the innocuous-sounding and inappropriately named, wealth worker- which has a much nicer ring to it than Serf, Wench or Manservant. It seems that now instead of creating living-wage jobs, one that can afford someone to make a living; we are now creating life-support jobs, positions that allow us to just barely survive with hardly any chance of having any savings let alone retiring. While these “wealth-workers” may have some perks such as a flexible schedule it allows their bosses to avoid laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates minimum wage and overtime pay they also provide no job security or benefits. Indeed they are fully dependent on the loving grace of their employers who may not be bound by rules of civility and their ability to continue to afford to have hired humans to do their bidding.
As if this was not a concerning enough trend, eyebrows were also raised by the appearance of an article suggesting that we may need to “readjust” the way we pay workers in this country. It seems that with more than 75% of people are living paycheck to paycheck it seems that paying workers more frequently would alleviate the pain of this issue. Heaven forbid that we pay people more money or even a wage that would allow them to get by without the $30 billion dollars that are lent out in payday loans. No- Clearly this is madness. We should create the universal basic income so that every man woman and child can receive the blessings of taxes on technology so that we can continue to support a system intent on grinding most us beneath the wheel. While there are those who will wring their hands and sob that that perhaps the rich could survive on possibly less than oh, say the 4 Million dollars the Walton family (of Walmart Fame) make every hour truly do not understand the pain of living with last weeks fleet of private jets. Yes, as F Scott Fitzgerald said, the rich are different and we should be grateful for the crumbs from the table and smile as they sweep them up with the dustpan and broom.
While it has been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a movement to do away with people in the workplace and perhaps in general, the boldest faced example of this was seen recently in the Wall Street Journal article, “Everyone Hates Customer Service. This Is Why.” It seems that companies have started crunching data and using artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to hang up on a customer service call and finding a to step in just before that happens. While working to save a customer has seemed to be good business all along, now the point seems to be to push them off until they get to a breaking point before you take action to try to redeem the relationship. It seems almost unfathomable that this strategy would be suggested or even endorsed in any other situation. How would you feel if your boss decided he was going to abuse you until you were ready to quit and only then to decide to take any redemptive action. Would you accept this from coworkers or even your wife?
When we learn, when will we remember that companies are there to serve us, that we are not their servants? Since when do we have an obligation to a corporation that sells us goods or services? Is their obligation to us not greater than their obligation to them- are they not there to serve us? And yet we have become so desensitized to our own power, we cower in fear only hoping that they will continue to provide us internet, phone service, and even government. We can’t help ourselves from giving up our data so that we can be turned into force-fed veal dining on our own waste. Have we no dignity left? What is our purpose here- do our lives have a value other than an immediate material gain- and not even for ourselves but for those so engorged on money and power that they either don’t see or don’t care the effect of their gluttony?