In 1867 Karl Marx reported:
Potter,* the chosen mouthpiece of the manufacturers distinguishes two sets of “machinery,” each of which belongs to the capitalist, and of which one stands in his factory, the other at night-time and on Sundays is housed outside the factory, in cottages. The one is inanimate, the other living. The inanimate machinery not only wears out and depreciates from day to day, but a great part of it becomes so quickly super-annuated by constant technical progress, that it can be replaced with advantage by new machinery after a few months. The living machinery on the contrary, gets better the longer it lasts, and in proportion as the skill, handed from one generation to another, accumulates.”
Let’s overlook the fact the Mr. Potter sees no problem with human machinery being viewed as property. After all the American Civil War was being fought at the time so that type of thinking was obviously not weird for these people.
More interesting to me is the fact that obsolescence was a problem even back then. I thought that was just a modern thing. Something we have to accept about cars and software. When I picture 19th Century industry, I think of huge iron machines, built to last, aesthetically-pleasing, impossible to move. Once you brought one into your home, it pretty much defined your life. You could never move; you’d never get that sewing machine into the donkey cart.
Compare yesterday’s materials to today’s plastic, tinfoil, and plether. The throwaway machines of yesterday would be today’s heirloom furniture. It’s hard for us to imagine 1800s people having problems with machines and tools becoming outdated in their own lifetimes. Apparently, though, even back then they couldn’t keep up with the rapidly evolving technology.
One thing they had that we don’t have is the unquestioning belief that humans are better than machines. We may feel smug because we’ve learned that owning another human being is improper, but we certainly aren’t confident that we’re better than our technology. And the idea that we’re actually getting better as we get older? That’s nothing but 70s advertising copy. No one buys it. If you google the words “we want young” you’ll get all kinds of places looking for young people. If you google the words “we want old” you’ll get all kinds of places looking for antique objects. No one wants old people.
This is evidenced by the fact that there’s an age discrimination law. Can you belive we actually had to pass legislation to make us respect our elders? Way back in the Neanderthal 1800s they had it right: experienced workers are better at their job than newbies. But, and here’s the big one for industry, oldsters command more in wages. A green cadet never costs as much as an old warrier. And don’t we just begrudge the higher salaries! Aren’t employees as interchangeable as machine parts? Why should one get paid so much when the next one comes so cheap?
So wonders the modern capitalists, or industrialists, or employers, or whatever you want to call them. Employers want young people, not because they are so much more in tune with modern times and new tech, but because they come at a cheaper price.
The Singularity can not help with this. No matter how much technology brings new and better ways to keep you looking young and vital, your years on the planet give you self-esteem that gives away your age. You know your worth and aren’t willing to settle for less. Once you pass a certain threshold age, there’s a good chance human resources will be looking to outsource your job. According to my local expert in hiring practices, age is the number one type of discrimination employers are guilty of. That beats out race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Welcome to the world. Start lying now.
*March 24, 1963, The Times (presumably the London Times) published a letter from Edmund Potter, a former president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. The letter was considered “the manufacturer’s manifesto.”