If you were to transport into this age, someone from a prior age, say the 19th century, that person would certainly be amazed at what he saw. From the perspective of this age, the assumption is he would be most impressed with the technological advances relative to his time. The ability to easily communicate with people, from all over the globe, would probably be the most dazzling. Instead of waiting weeks for a letter from a friend, we exchange e-mails and texts instantly from wherever we happen to be standing.
People in the modern West tend to think of progress in purely material terms, so that would be the thing most people think of in this thought experiment. Our communication systems are better. Our transportation systems are better. Our food and entertainments are vastly more plentiful, if not necessarily better. It’s not unreasonable to think that 19th century man would marvel at a fast food drive through. To him, at least in a material sense, this age is beyond the world of fantasy.
Something else would probably stun 19th century man. That is the lack of human interaction compared to his time. This is one of those counter-intuitive things for people in this age, because this age is awash in communications. Everywhere you turn, the rulers are sending messages to you about the latest products you must consume or the most recently approved thoughts you should promote. Humans in this age are awash in mass media, which bombards us wherever we go.
When you look past that top layer, however, what you see is people “interfacing” with one another, but very few people bonding and interacting. Look at the typical customer service experience. You call and someone, from somewhere, responds to your prompts, using a script provided to them by the software in the call center. Increasingly, the customer service agent is a robot. Most people order their prescriptions, for example, from a robot, not a pharmacist. It is purely transactional.
This sterilization of human interaction is not limited to the impersonal contact we make with global corporations. Inside the corporation, relationships are increasingly automated and systematized. Managers are trained to use management systems to interface with their direct reports. Staff is no longer encouraged to be loyal to a manager, as that is as sensible as being loyal to the coffee machine. The manager is just an entity that inputs data into the management system.
The argument in favor of automation in the work place is it reduces errors and lowers costs, but often the driving force is to limit human interaction. The shift supervisor, so used to dealing with systems in his life, is unequipped to actually manage human beings on a personal level. Instead of monitoring their work and correcting their errors, adjusting for personality, he posts their efficiency reports in the break room, along with all of the other management metrics that come from the quality control system.
This is something people in the process management world have come to understand about the modern workplace. It’s not as much about efficiency as about the fact that young people no longer possess the social skills that were an assumed part of society just a couple of generations ago. The young manager does not have the social skills to confront an underling over an error or the intuition to encourage someone who needs a little motivation to get through a difficulty.
The general reputation of millennials in the work place is that they are self-absorbed, needy and entitled. Companies have responded to this with tighter structures that remove the need for initiative and adaptability. In reality, the cause of the problem is a generation of people raised by robots. The well-adapted millennials are those who played sports or served in the military. In those environments, stripped of automation, they learned how to be leaders, teammates and adapt to new conditions.
This is not just a workplace phenomenon. This post from the London School of Economics is amusing in many ways, but one line jumps out. “Occupational segregation matters because it can lead to inequality between workers and limit the talent pool for employers trying to fill a position.” The sterility of language will remind anyone over the age of 40 of the jokes made about communism. That’s a line that would seem at home in a provincial report on the latest five year plan.
This is something you see all over the social sciences. It’s why the author of the post claims, with a straight face, that economists are baffled as to why homosexuals are clustered into certain fields. Within living memory, people just knew why this was and did not think much about it. It was so obvious, it was assumed everyone knew it. In the atomized transactional world of today, humans are the most baffling thing to their fellow humans. No one knows anything about themselves now.
Part of this is the result of multiculturalism. That man brought here from a century ago would have been snatched from a world in which everyone was like him. If he was a city dweller, he may have bumped up against other tribes of immigrants or natives, but his daily life was spent around his people. What he knew about those other people was through the lens of his understanding of himself and his people. It was not through a description in a textbook or from a class on human development.
Today we live in a world of strangers. White communities have been shattered, along with the sense of community. In fact, whites are no longer permitted to have a sense of community. Since most of what makes the modern world possible is still run by whites, the result is a world run by deracinated strangers in a sea of alienation. Those management systems are simply a response to this reality. It’s a solution to slow what is the inexorable process of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism.
There’s also the fact that technology has not just made stuff cheaper. It has changed how humans interact with the world. This shows up in standardized testing. Young people are better at taking tests, because they live in a world of tests. Their games are structured along the same lines as a standardized test. Instead of a free form world of play, it is the range of options available in the video game. Instead of problem solving, it is leaning the combination of available inputs.
This transactional existence is not without its consequences. The alienation that is a daily part of modern life manifests as nostalgia throughout the culture. Hollywood movies are either based on childhood items, like super heroes, or remakes of shows from when America was not this way. The rising tide of populism and ethno-nationalism, particularly among the youth, is a romantic response to a modern world that offers plenty of ways to use your time, but no answer for how to live.
That’s what would most shock and horrify 19th century man about this age. He could live without the instant communications, but he could not live a life in which no one had anything to say or a reason to say it. He could live without modern transportation, but he could not live without a place to a go or a people to visit. He could not live alone in a world full of strangers. It’s all those close, smelly, sweaty connections with your people that makes you human. He could not live without that and in a probability, neither can we.
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