Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The future: Old Detroit or Delta City?

Robocop - Delta City
Where would you rather live - Detroit or Delta City?

I think that there’s a lot to be said for the onward march of technology in our lives. There are people working out there in the field who are really want to make the world a better place.

I love the film Robocop. The original, by Paul Verhoeven, was based on the idea that the private sector of the near future would look to ‘disrupt’ the ‘broken’ infrastructure of our towns and cities for profit. A chilling image in my mind. 

For me, the saddest thing is that the film is a big favourite amongst the big-wigs in Silicon Valley. They see Robocop as a triumph of technology over the flaws of a unionised police force. I would argue that the whole premise of the film is humanity succeeding with, and sometimes despite, the technology on offer.

Here's a brief synopsis of the world that Robocop takes place in, courtesy of Business Insider:
In RoboCop, economic life is deformed by extreme poverty and recession. The only decent paying jobs, it seems, are as ruthless corporate chieftains, police officers or drug lords. The cops are on strike. The capitalists want to destroy the city. And the gangsters are enjoying every minute of it.

Alex Murphy is a human being, a police officer callously murdered by criminals, then callously reconstructed by mega-corporation OCP, to uphold the law, and to make the boffins, middle-managers and shareholders money.

As much of his external identity is stripped away, the strength that is given to him through his metallic body, as well as his moral compass (yes, I’m straying into morals), allow him to defeat not only the criminals leaching off of the misery of Detroit, but also the corruption within the boardroom of OCP, which in many ways directly and indirectly needed the criminality rife in the city to push through the profitable ideas they proposed for the city (including union-busting).

I love technology, and I always feel the need to say this when I write a blog of this kind. But what I don’t like about technology is the notion that everything in public life needs to be ‘disrupted’ by it.

Case in point: strikes. Last month in San Francisco, the transport unions of the city decided to go on strike. The reasons for this strike included pay, working conditions and safety concerns. For everybody. Surely that’s got to be worth fighting for? Wouldn’t you like the power to be able to do that where you work if you felt that you were being dealt a bad hand?

Sadly, in Silicon Valley, these acts of collective bargaining are seen as scummy and inefficient. Other people’s pay and conditions should have no impact upon your own life. Sarah Lacey, mouthpiece of the rich and influential in The SiliDigital Vallalleybout, was disgusted by the strike action, wishing that somebody would “Work on disrupting BART [the union in question]”.
“If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something. People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”
To my mind, collective bargaining, or ‘crowdsourcing support’ is an innovative idea on which some of the core tenets of social technology is built. You want a better deal? You get together and you unlock it. You enlist your friends. It’s a lot like any daily deals site you can think of - the difference being that it’s not (always) a hokey operation. Real life bargaining can bring about genuine social change, and the internet can help to facilitate this.

If you stand against this, you stand for the very values of the corporation that stands at the centre of the corruption in Detriot.

You can either stand toe-to-toe with workers, or you can stand with Lacey and her friend Richard White, who'd rather have a transportation system without the need for these troublesome humans.
“One of the guys on our team said he's putting in his two-weeks notice once he found out what he could make working for BART,” White said, joking. His solution to address those disgruntled BART workers? “Get ‘em back to work, pay them whatever they want, and then figure out how to automate their jobs so this doesn't happen again.”
Sometimes the disruptors like to think they are the Robocops, when in reality, they’re all just in thrall to OCP.