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BK Magazine The Opinion Pages
Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place!
Unrestrained Technological Power
Over a decade ago, David Korten used his best-selling book When Corporations Rule the World to warn us of the perils of unchecked corporate power. Activists like Jeffrey Clements (author of Corporations Are Not People ) have worked tirelessly to rein in the political power of corporations. But is anyone keeping an eye on the unchecked TECHNOLOGICAL power of corporations?
With social media technology, corporations have access to more personal information than they have ever had before. With “Big Data,” corporations use supercomputers to predict our behavior. And a few years from now, corporations will probably be able to send drones right into our homes.
Amazon “Prime Air” Pushing Our Consumerist Buttons
As many of you know, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently announced he was developing drone technology for delivering packages. CBS news reported, “It’s an audacious plan that Bezos says requires more safety testing and FAA approvals, but he estimates that delivery-by-drone, called Amazon -Prime Air,’ will be available to customers in as soon as 4-5 years.”
Is this part of a growing trend, where every nook and cranny of personal life is infiltrated by the power of the corporation? I envision a future where consumers are like rats in a maze, watched over by corporate scientists, pressing buttons to receive pellets of cheese (or Amazon packages.) Deepak Malhotra, in his book, I Moved Your Cheese , advises us “refuse to live as mice in someone else’s maze.” But in the future, will that even be possible?
Corporations Are Absolutely Confident They Can Manipulate the Law
Saying that the drones require “more safety testing and FAA approvals,” is one way of saying that the drones in their current form are illegal. So why has the Amazon corporation invested their money in developing illegal technology? Could it be because they have absolute confidence that they can change the law (within reason) to say whatever they want it to say?
An Internet humorist, creating a satirical image of an “Amazon Drone Missed Delivery” slip,uses comedy to express certain valid concerns about safety, privacy, and practicality. (Although his line about “Drone reached sentience and defected to join the machines in the upcoming revolution against mankind” seems rather unlikely.) How can Jeff Bezos be absolutely confident that all objections to changing the legislation will be overcome?
Government or Corporate Drones: Which is Worse?
When I complained on Twitter about Jeff Bezos pursuing illegal technology, my follower @eric_ralph responded, “Yeah, someone should tell him the only government-approved use for drones is illegal killing, not package delivery.”
The use of drones by the government has always been extremely controversial. Recently, anti-war activists held a “Drones Fly, Children Die,” protest outside of the UN. In 2010, Obama got in big trouble for joking at a state dinner about using drones to discourage people from flirting with his daughters.
If Prime Air becomes a widely adopted service, however, drones will become more ubiquitous than ever before. Technology which is used to deliver packages can just as easily be used to deliver parcel-sized bombs. What if a terrorist gets ahold of an Amazon octocopter and manages to reprogram it? It could take the “suicide” right out of suicide bombing.
Corporations Are Gradually Removing Humans from the Equation
Although machines are not going to rebel (Matrix-style) against humankind any time soon, perhaps we should be concerned about machines replacing humans. The drones Jeff Bezos proposes will be unmanned, adding postmen to the long, long list of workers who are being partially replaced by robots. A line David Korten penned in When Corporations Rule the World now seems positively prescient.
“Perhaps, one day, if allowed sufficient freedom to follow its own unrestrained tendencies, a global corporation will achieve the ultimate in productive efficiency, an entity made up solely of computers and machines busily engaged in the replication of money… Although this is surely not what anyone intends, we are acting as though this is the world we seek to create,” Korten writes.
Effect of 30-Minute Online Delivery on Community Relationships
If I become a Prime Air subscriber, I theoretically never have to do errands or go shopping again. Amazon has everything. No running to the corner store to get that last-minute ingredient for my recipe. In today’s society, even the most depressed, introverted hermit is occasionally forced to interact with other human beings. In the age of Prime Air, it will be possible to eschew all in-person human interaction (other than whatever is necessary to earn a living.) And when you combine e-commuting with e-shopping, you achieve the “dream” (or perhaps the nightmare) of the totally isolated human being.
Of course, you could argue that humans are social creatures, and even if they had the option to be totally alone, they would never pursue it. However, books like Bowling Alone (by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam) have proven that in-person socialization in America has been on a trend of decline. What role does technology play in exacerbating that?
Peter Block writes in his book Community , “ The absence of belonging is so widespread that we might say we are living in an age of isolation, imitating the lament from early in the last century, when life was referred to as the age of anxiety.” And every new invention has the potential to feed this spreading blight of isolation.
A Declaration of Independence from Excessive Technology
As well as warning us about corporations ruling the world, David Korten has also written Agenda for a New Economy, a beautiful book which traces the path to a better world. In one of the chapters of this book, Korten calls for a Declaration of Independence from Wall Street. What is needed, Korten argues, “is a system that favors life values over financial values, roots power in people and community, and supports local resilience and self-organization within a framework of living markets and democracy.”
When I read Korten’s words, I think about saying NO to a society where I order from machines, talk to machines, receive packages from machines, all day long. I want to live in a cute little neighborhood where I know my butcher, my baker, and all my librarians. I don’t want to be holed up in a fortress of solitude having robots deliver me books. I should be sitting on a tiny outdoor table with a flowery vine growing over my head, sipping coffee, people-watching, and leafing through the pages of the book my good friend just sold to me. That’s the world I want. The technological power of corporations should have some reasonable limits on it; otherwise technology goes too far in dominating our lives.
How do you think Amazon drones will change the world? Share your thoughts on this discussion page of BK Community.