The Automation Charade

Mais um texto maravilhoso da maravilhosa revista Logic. Esse merece um textão (na verdade, mais uma leitura guiada).

Hence, I propose making our idea of automation itself obsolescent. A new term, “fauxtomation,” seems far more fitting.

Aqui, Astra Taylor propõe uma nova palavra: fauxtomation – uma amálgama de faux, falso, e automation, automação. Com ela, tenta mostrar como certas promessas de automação e progresso tecnológico não passam de uma forma de fazer os consumidores - que pagam - fazerem o trabalho que antes funcionários - que recebem - fariam:

“Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced the nationwide roll-out of touchscreen self-service kiosks,” Rensi wrote. “In a video the company released to showcase the new customer experience, it’s striking to see employees who once would have managed a cash register now reduced to monitoring a customer’s choices at an iPad-style kiosk.”

In reality, what is actually striking when you watch that video is not the cybernetic futurism but rather just how un-automated the scene is. Work has not disappeared from the restaurant floor, but the person doing the work has changed. Instead of an employee inputting orders dictated by the customer, customers now do it themselves for free, while young, friendly-looking employees hover nearby and deliver meals to tables.

A fauxtomation não seria nova, segundo a autora, que aponta o dumbwaiter de Thomas Jefferson como um exemplo precoce:

A YouTube video produced by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation goes into greater detail, showing exactly how the historic devices worked. As we’re encouraged to marvel at the dumbwaiter’s quaint design, a gentle voiceover struggles to adequately grapple with the cruelty behind Jefferson’s contraptions:

In Jefferson’s dining room, he installs dumbwaiters into both sides of the fireplace mantel. A weight drops, and a bottle rises from the wine cellar directly below the dining room. Just outside the dining room is a revolving door with shelves on it, so when the food is ready to serve, it can be brought upstairs, loaded on the shelves, and the door turned into the room. These gadgets impress visitors, but they also allow Jefferson to hide something from his visitors and that is the reality of slavery... One of Jefferson's own visitors noted these things that Jefferson was doing—noted Jefferson’s conversations about what he called “ameliorating slavery,” as though it could be made better—and her observation was simply this: that Jefferson was doing nothing more than gilding the chains of slavery.

Jefferson gilded chains by making them hard to see. Slaves (“members of the slave community” as the video awkwardly dubs them) cooked hot food and put it on shelves, making it appear as if the evening’s fare had been conjured by magic. The same hidden hands whisked away dirty plates just as quickly. Slaves also stood at the ready in the basement, waiting to load up any wine the master and his guests required. The appearance of seemingly automated abundance Jefferson so doggedly cultivated required substantial additional labor—the labor of making labor seem to disappear.

Para analisar a tendência, ela usa de conceitos do feminismo socialista:

The socialist feminist tradition is a powerful resource because it's centrally concerned with what work is — and in particular how capitalism lives and grows by concealing certain kinds of work, refusing to pay for it, and pretending it's not, in fact, work at all.

That women have special insight into technology shouldn’t come as a surprise: after all, they have been sold the promise of liberation through labor-saving devices since the dawn of mass consumerism, and this applies to kitchen appliances in particular. (It’s a short and rather sad leap from self-cleaning ovens to self-cooking ones.) Despite this, they have seen their workloads multiply, not diminish.

In her study More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave, Ruth Cowan sheds astonishing light on the way innovations like electric irons and vacuum cleaners only added to the list of daily chores for women confined in the cult of domesticity. These innovations also increased cleanliness standards—i.e., ramped up the productivity expectations for home workers as well as their workloads—while transforming housekeeping into a more gendered, solitary, time-consuming occupation. Here is an especially vivid reminder from our patriarchal past that automation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and hardly guarantees the absence of work.

Ela também mostra como a ideia de que a automação tomará nossos trabalhos é usada para nos fazer aceitar condições mais precárias de trabalho, já que máquinas fariam o mesmo trabalho mais rápido, com menos defeito, por menos e sem reclamar:

The problem is that the emphasis on technological factors alone, as though “disruptive innovation” comes from nowhere or is as natural as a cool breeze, casts an air of blameless inevitability over something that has deep roots in class conflict. The phrase “robots are taking our jobs” gives technology agency it doesn’t (yet?) possess, whereas “capitalists are making targeted investments in robots designed to weaken and replace human workers so they can get even richer” is less catchy but more accurate.

Capitalism needs workers to be and feel vulnerable, and because automation has an ideological function as well as a technological dimension, leftists must keep intervening in conversations about technological change and what to do about it.

(...)

Of course capitalists want working people to be precarious, pitted against one another, and frightened about what the future may hold. Of course they want us to think that if we dare to push back and demand more than scraps the robots will replace us—that we can be automated away at the push of a button. They may wish that were the case, and are no doubt investing their fortunes toward making it seem so. But it, and indeed anything like it, has not come close to being true. If the automated day of judgment were actually nigh, they wouldn’t need to invent all these apps to fake it.

Pois é.