Automation Nation

Automating tasks can make our world and the Technojungle faster, more convenient, and cheaper. However, are we becoming too automatic? Is your life and our world truly made better through automation?

I’ve mentioned our old Plymouth station wagon before, however, I have not mentioned the previous car. I was very young, but can vaguely recall a light green or blue car that I believe was something like a 1952 Plymouth sedan. It likely had what has often been called Three-on-the-tree. This was a three speed, or gear, manual transmission with the shifter on the steering column. If you have ever driven a manual transmission, you know how more in touch with your driving experience you are. There is something about manual that keeps you engaged and paying attention. The red 1959 station wagon had a push button transmission on the dashboard. In fact, everything in the car was electric and automatic. It was a step toward automated driving.

While driving is becoming more automated, sometimes automation can allow Technojungle corporations to create more work for us. This is called shadow work and can, not only shove work to our side of dealing with corporations, it can also be depersonalizing. 

It has only been a decade, or so, since I used to be personally greeted at the bank with tellers and the bank manager using my last name as a formality—“Good afternoon Mr. Grahame, how are you?” Now my bank rewards me for having an account where I can’t deal with a human; I must use a website. I’m sure you can think of several instances where you are encouraged to be self-serving and, if you do get to interact with someone, it can turn out to be a bot impersonating a human. The next level up is someone somewhere else in the world who may not understand your language and uses a database of information to answer your question. In other words, they are not an expert. It seems to me that every time I turn around, because of some form of automation, I’m being forced to do tasks—work—that I used to rely on an expert professional human to help me with. Whatever happed to service?

One of the hallmarks of the Industrial Revolution was the rise of automation. Take a short safari back in time, back to whatever you might know about the Industrial Revolution. People migrated to the cities and found jobs in factories manufacturing things for a rapidly growing society of consumerism. These people no longer grew their own food. Food was imported into the city from places where people still grew food. Those who continued to grow food had to grow more food to meet the demands from the cities. People moved from nature jungles to city Technojungles.

Why was automation a hallmark of the Industrial Revolution? Let’s imagine the manufacturing of something, perhaps for example, a wagon wheel. The old way of manufacturing before the Industrial Revolution, might have involved one person making one wheel. It didn’t take long, with new ideas around Technojungle manufacturing processes, for someone to determine that one person could perfect doing one portion of the manufacturing process and let someone else do another. Thus the assembly line was invented. With the invention of technological machines, human efforts could be assisted by Technojungle machines and automation began. The conveyor belt could move the products from one assembly station to another. The above is only a possible example and a very simple one. The first assembly line may have been used in China long before the West used it as a driving force of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution was a time when many Technojungle machines were invented. The making of things went from being done by hand to using machines. Steam powered most of the machines. The factory system was develop by powerful people with money. Capitalism ruled societies. In the factories, people worked alongside machines. Division of labour meant that workers required less skill, since they participated in fewer steps of the manufacturing processes. The Technojungle factory work was generally quite gruelling. Have you seen images of factories with huge wheels and drive belts? The rise of all these often dangerous Technojungle machines meant people could get jobs and buy things produced in the factories. As with the technology revolutions that have followed, during the Industrial Revolution, everyone’s life was changed in some way. I’m sure you are well aware of the pollution that resulted from such rapid technological growth. What kinds of Technojungle pollutions are we dealing with, or might have to deal with in future?

There will be many rapid changes as outcomes of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic which can be considered as a new approach to the order of the world — a New World Order which will follow the Industrial Revolution, or Industrial Age, and the Information Age.

The idea of having one human do the same thing over and over also meant that what they did or made was the same each time. Parts made could be interchangeable. Technojungle assembly lines and automation truly became perfected in the automotive industry. Henry Ford is credited with making the Model T so quickly, and each one identical, that anyone could afford it. You could have any colour you wanted, as long as it was black.

New inventions seemed to pop up everywhere. They bred more and more machines to make more and more things. The goal was to make life in the Technojungle cities better with promises of being safer, healthier, more productive. In many ways this has been true, however, have things turned out as expected for living this future life in the Technojungle? Humans made machines and other humans operated them. Other people were required to do tasks in the manufacturing process that no machine could yet perform until other machines were developed to replace the humans. Machines could not do everything. With the idea of an assembly line, people were soon becoming part of the machines used in production and manufacturing. I have experienced this myself. The worker’s movements are dictated by the pace of the machine.

There were no safety measures in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, sometimes known as the Industrial Age or Machine Age. No governing bodies or organizations to ensure safe workplaces. No unions. No age restrictions, so children were often taken out of school to work in the booming Technojungle factories thus making even more things for a demanding consumeristic society. Certain people were becoming very wealthy and used to a life of comfort at the expense of those toiling in the dangerous, inhumane factories of Technojungle automation. 

It could be a gruelling life of repetitive tasks done in a noisy, unhealthy environment with long hours of work. People were injured, breathed unhealthy toxins and had to endure many aspects of their work and environment that created health risks. There was plenty of unexpected baggage in the world of life in the automated Technojungle. Could gruelling, repetitive, noisy, unsafe, unhealthy, long hours, injuries, exposure to some form of toxins, etc. also describe some aspects of our lives in the online Technojungle? What different hazards might we be facing in the modern Technojungle we work and live in? What safeguards will we discover to be necessary for safe working and living environments? Keep these ideas in mind as we proceed.

Much of this sort of work still exists today, although conditions have improved in developed countries. Look to the developing countries and you can see a different story. 

Life in a world of machines usually requires humans to work alongside the machines. Production processes can turn humans into an automation nation of the Technojungle.

After high school, I worked in a dairy doing several jobs that often involved working as part of a machine production line. I particularly remember my first day on the job. Trucks would come in and the drivers would unload stacks of empty milk cases, both newer lighter plastic ones and older heavier metal ones, onto a conveyor belt. I was placed at the other end of the belt to grab the stacks before they piled up and fell over. The procedure was to put your hand on the top case of the stack of five cases and hook the bottom case with a wire rod. Doing so would allow one to drag the stack.

I don’t recall anyone actually showing me in detail how to do the job. I think the plant superintendent or plant foreman may have given me a very brief demonstration. As is often the case in work like this where the job seems to be the simplest in the plant, another worker probably pointed me to the job and said a few words and then left to see how I might make out. He probably knew quite well that, without a few tips, I would soon be in trouble. Thinking back, this may have been some sort of initiation process.

Wouldn’t you know it, several trucks came in at the same time and began to absolutely load up the conveyor with stacks of cases. Well, everything backed up. Soon I was in trouble and not able to keep up. It got worse. It didn’t take long until there was no room for anymore stacks. The plant Superintendent came along and had to pitch in. He asked me if anyone had told me that the stacks had to be made higher. This involved taking a stack of five and then several cases from another stack, hopefully the lighter plastic ones, and adding them on the top of a stack of five making a stack eight or ten high.

I was sweating, soaked in fact, because the dairy was a place where there was a lot of water everywhere and steam was used to clean equipment, so humidity was very high. We finally got all the cases in and stacked. I was beat. It was hard work. 

Part of the job was to feed cases on another conveyor that led to the filling machines. Here cartons were filled with milk and someone would be packing-off the output conveyor track and putting in cases the cartons, or other products, from yet another conveyor track. Each case, when filled, was stacked five high and the stack was put on a conveyor which would take it into a gigantic refrigerated wear house. Someone in the refrigerator would take the stack off the conveyor and store it until an order was being filled. Then the cases would be put on another conveyor taking the order out to be loaded on a truck for delivery.

What is my point telling you so much about my experiences working in a dairy? The conveyor belt has been a central machine in many manufacturing processes. It was this simple machine that taught me how to work like a machine—it automated me. I soon learned to watch the line of stacked cases heading into the plant and to prepare for a situation of several trucks coming in at once. I made sure that all the cases were piled high ahead of time. When too many stacks were coming at once, I pulled them off and set them aside. I learned to tell when there might be a break so I could properly stack the cases. I became more machine-like, perhaps a smart machine. I was automated.

I did many other jobs in the dairy. Most of these jobs required me to learn to work at the pace of a machine, to actually become part of the machine processes. I learned to organize my work and find best practices for optimal functioning. I became even more automated and machine-like living in a mechanical Technojungle. Isn’t a production plant an automated Technojungle and that may be why we call them plants—production plants as part of an even larger Technojungle world?

I became more machine-like. I was automated.

Automation creates standardization where everything done or made has to meet a particular identified standard of characteristics, quality and speed. Efficiency is monitored while procedures and processes are honed to perfection. The humans involved have to be automated, machine-like and standardized. This is dehumanizing.

I once went to a job interview at a computer company. I was told that they wanted the next person to be exactly like the previous person. I was shocked! I was not made from a cookie cutter. Even a team of humans can operate like a machine. In fact, this is often one of the goals—teamwork. But how can any person be exactly the same as another person? Yet this seems to be what human resources experts try to do. We train in educational factories to fit work, as parts of machines, instead of training to be human. The employment system breeds an automated nation of people to fit into factory-like automated work positions. Do employers want a real human being, or a machine? If humans are to work in a workplace as a machine, then will they one day be replaced by a machine?

Our education systems, learn to earn environments, are designed to make us fit the square holes of the workplace and society even though we are more like round pegs—human pegs. How well do round peg humans fit square holes of the workplace? Our education systems produces factory parts—human parts. When machines take over all our work, will we have to go to school to learn how to be human beings again?

Throughout this book I use the term human. It is a good way to differentiate us from machines and technology. But what we need to remember is that each human is a person and has a personality. Maybe this is a better word and the one that most people use when referring to another human. Yet our corporations have moved to using a very inhuman term Human Resources. Doesn’t the term human resources make us seem more like machine parts? If you are old enough, do you remember when the department people which dealt with other people in a corporation was call the Personnel Department? Humans were treated more like a person. At one time, my dad’s job was Personnel Manager. Today that job might be called Human Resources Manager.

I will continue to use the term human and dehumanize. I suppose personalize and depersonalize might also work. However, we should always keep in mind that humans are people, that every person is a human being and, we are all people being human beings in the Technojungle.

The education and training systems are other huge Technojungles. I know this, having worked extensively in them, studied them and gained a Masters of Education degree. The education system is in cahoots with corporations by working with industries to identify exactly what jobs require. People are then trained to meet the requirements of a particular position in an industry and to fit into a job slot, as opposed to being educated as well rounded humanized individuals and citizens of society. 

Our education and training systems, as factories manufacturing parts for corporations, prepare people to fit the norms of society. As the Technojungle changes, the parts require modification, and eventually, technology replaces the human part. What might be the function of an education system in the future? What will people need to study in a world where most jobs may have been replaced by AI smart automation? What jobs might be left?

How are people recruited for a job or position in a corporation? I worked in a large institution and observed the process. A job outline is used to produce a job recruitment program. Résumés are gathered, either submitted, or posted online, and scanned for keywords which match the job requirements. This eliminates the human aspects of the prospective employee. Many new trainees find that they also need experience to get the job. These are the automated, standardized education and employment systems of the Technojungle.

Are we humans addicted to automation? Does automating our lives mean we do things better, just different? Does it make us more efficient by saving time and energy which can mean saving money? Automation adds consistency so that what is made or done is the same every time, but is this better? Certainly not for fostering creativity. It is not going to help us customize what we make or do. Can automation somehow help us be more human? Can it make us a better person?

As you go through your day on safari, look around at what is automated in your life and the world of the Technojungle. See how it automates you and ask yourself if you would like to do something different, in a different way? Think back and consider if your life in this future is what you expected?

Do you, like most of us humans living in this technology filled world, have devices that allow you to access things like E-mail and other Internet services in the Technojungle? What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? A couple of decades ago, the answer would most likely be to have a coffee and read the newspaper. Some people might have a shower first. Today, I’m sure the answer would be to check E-mail and other Technojungle services. I have to confess that I sometimes check messages before I even get dressed and, once in a while, before getting out of bed—well I used to, until I got writing this book. I no longer sleep in the same room as my technological devices, do you?

Should I ask what the last thing you do before going to bed is? Likely it has something to do with your technodevices. We could ask ourselves what this says about our futuristic lives as trying to be human beings in the Technojungle? At night, as I head off to bed, I think in my head, “I’m tucking in my technologies….” I do this as I plug all my devices in to get charged overnight.

The clock has been an invention that has automated our human lives. Think for a moment about how the clock automates your life. Do you, like some people, have to do the same thing at the same time everyday or else you feel uncomfortable? Writers are told this as a number one habit to develop. Do you use the clock to add precision timing to your life? The clock has allowed us to meet and arrive at the same time in the Technojungle. It has introduced the notion of being early or late. A bus or train can be on time right down to the minute and we can meet it at exactly the right time. 

My kids, now young adults, used to tell us that they were going to meet friends. When we asked what they were going to do, they replied, “Just hang out.” There was the inference of lots of spare time and just being free to explore, go and do what one feels like doing. They even had time to waste frolicking in the Technojungle. As they have become young adults, the adult world has begun to swallow them up. I notice that it has become difficult for my kids as adults to find those fancy-free times of youth, so could youth have something to teach adult humans trying to survive in the Technojungle? Perhaps not, how often do you see them without a Technojungle device? Still, could being human include being able to waste time? Well that’s probably not a waste if we are being human, now is it?

Do we get more done in a day by timing our activities exactly? Do we do things better if we automate? Getting more done with automated precision is like saying the health of a country is based on its economy and a healthy economy is one where people are producing and buying. Well, that says nothing about the actual health of the human population or the natural environment we rely on for survival—the Earth. We know that people are still getting illnesses and serious conditions, and we know that our Earth is in a critical situation due to human activities. Does all the exactness of the modern automated Technojungle actually improve our human life? How about improvements in some ways, but not in others? Perhaps it says more about life in the Technojungle? Is this humanizing or dehumanizing?

Many people like things to be the same. They like regularity. It makes them feel comfortable. Is this the response and result of a conditioned life in the Technojungle? Can you be more human when automated? Think back to what being human really means to you. Have we simply become convinced and conditioned to strive for automation? Is that the best or only way to survive in the Technojungle? What about the future? When life gets busy, unpredictable, or just not going the way we think it should, one might exclaim, “I wish I could have a normal life!” What would a normal life be? Is life more comfortable when it is automatic and automated? Or, are we more alive and more human when life gets, well lively—perhaps even messy?

One final important point about automation. Increasingly it involved AI. As discussed in the previous chapter and will be discussed further in book two, AI is automating even more of our lives than we even know about. How do you see AI automating the world around you? Is it possible that, in some cases, AI de-automates, or un-automates?

At a basic level, our lives are somewhat automated by the natural jungle and world. It gets dark, we go to bed; it gets light, we get up to feed ourself. It seems we can’t escape some automation, but we need to draw the line somewhere if we want to learn about being better human beings and living in the Technojungle.

The Technojungle out there wants us to be an automation nation. This can be dehumanizing. On this road into the future of becoming technological beings should we wonder if, in some ways, we can go too far?


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