Some 2400 years ago, Plato composes “Phaedrus,” a critique citing the dangers of abandoning the oral tradition of learning. This warning is fully realized another millennium later when Hugh of St. Victor pens the “Didascalicon”as a guide for scholars who will soon be able to, beyond speaking, read and write Latin on transportable paper — something that was not thought possible in the 11th century.
The explosion of reading that occurs paves the way for the Enlightenment and the invention of Gutenberg’s press quickly follows: A gift that educates most of the modern world, destroys the Church’s authority, and builds the intellectual caste systems that still exist today.
From the power of the book, the rise of academia, and the sheer intellectual might of Renaissance philosophy, the scientific method soon summons Aristotle to bestow on humanity an intense power of repeatable empiricism, yielding only to the limits of our imagination.
Now, with a handy guide for science, Frederick Winslow Taylor brings a mechanical clock onto the steel-mill floor in 1878 to track, sequence, and optimize the individual actions of his employees. Taylor’s goal? To create the most efficient algorithm possible for his workers’ time and labor. This is what we now affectionately call the assembly line. It is in this first deliberate act that industrial man finds his epistemology and from which the philosophical foundations of modern day Silicon Valley emerge: automation.
Taylor sets his findings in stone in “The Principles of Scientific Management (1911)”, which would become the 10 commandments for modern industry. Here, in “Technopoly (1993),” Neil Postman reflects on Taylor’s commandments:
[T]hat the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that in fact human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.
Taylor deconstructed, optimized, and subverted the human condition. He brought automation to bear with human weakness, and it was in this monumental act we first collectively decided that the human substance was less important than the efficiency of the outcome. Underpinning the technological paradigm we now observe is the Taylorist philosophy that the human condition is outmoded or faulty — that we are incapable of advancing human progress without the aid of machines.
Taylorism is the religion — the high church — of Google, Facebook, Silicon Valley, and beyond. The sophists of old are now replaced by futurists (who are also sophists) who demand that everything bend towards a technological singularity.
Finally, what is it?
“People Over Product” is the affectionate moniker I give my outlook on how humans should interact with and ultimately subjugate technology. It is the platform by which I personally research, study, grapple, and write about the technological effects on American society — a people who are embracing technology faster than we can breathe.
I live in Washington, D.C., so my day job is national politics. I have worked at the intersection of politics, media, and technology for a decade; in those ten years I have seen many things that have both frightened and amazed me. Now as a husband and a father, I am intent on examining the effects of our choices and how they shape us.
Despite how my writing may strike you, I am no Luddite. Far from it. But while I will always defend technology’s incredible gifts to us, like the book or medicine, I will never allow it to replace the God who gifted life itself to us.
We are God’s love and creation. We owe it to His infinite mercy and to each other to build things that help us grow, flourish, and continue to glorify His name. Tools that weaken or destroy us have no place in His kingdom.
We must remain vigilant, refusing to worship any false masters that would dehumanize us — especially the technology we increasingly can’t seem to live without.
Welcome former Politic readers!
I began The Politic in April of 2015 for lots of different reasons. At first I just wanted to build some original writing. Then, halfway in, I realized that my writing was dreadful, and I became adamant about improving. My reward for readers? I would shed some light into politics and technology in Washington, D.C.— two worlds I very much occupy. But over the years, a very different theme took shape. A theme that, if you have been reading my newsletter since the beginning, shouldn’t surprise.
Technology has taken a central focus in my life. I was thrown into digital marketing at the same moment I returned to the Catholic Church. I began asking questions of my work: “Why do we do these things?” Had anyone asked me ten years ago — at the peak of my political philosophy coursework — if I had any reservations about the abuses of technology, I would have laughed. But today I have two little children and my views look very different: especially about God and the role of the good.
The new title — “People Over Product”— will take on a mission of its own. Its goal is to bring people together under one cardinal maxim: Technology should always be subservient to man. Whether it be the hammer, the screen, the WTO, or an interconnected global economy — we should always demand that our tools serve human beings instead the reverse. Additionally, I am vigilantly searching for people who believe in this mission. Searching for people who believe that:
- Our tools shape who we are and we are constantly recreating our environments to mirror and imitate the mediums we worship;
- Every man deserves work that summons his greatness, creativity, or physicality — even if that work product is less efficient, more expensive, or not automated;
- Constant communication, especially media, news, streaming video, and information on demand, all contribute to an insatiable online addiction;
- Visual media, especially video, can be a corrupting force that entertains, distorts truth, and consumes the mind;
- Reading, writing, and physical communion of persons are the highest order goods for communicating.
You do not have to agree with all of these, but if you agree with at least some, I want you to join me. Reach out to me and become part of this movement: firstname.lastname@example.org
All my old writing will either remain on Medium or eventually find its way to this new home: http://people.overproduct.com. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me for this long. For the few hundred of you who have remained loyal to my newsletter over the years, you are my true reward.
[Photo credit: Mehmet Geren: https://www.instagram.com/p/Byul3eYHz9S/. ]