Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Author Replies # Posted on March 5, 2014 at 14:24

Comment on Yongliang’s reflection
Dear Gao, thank you for your reflection. I agree with you on several points, especially with your claim that time/space compression that technology enables to those who can afford it, indeed has its dire consequences not only for its producers but its consumers too. I missed this aspect in Hornborg’s text too, but I guess it is beyond the scope of the book, which primarily deals with unequal flows and structural inequalities that are hidden in every manifestation of technology. Like you said, the understanding of psychological consequences that happen when technology rewires us according to its capacities is of utmost importance. Or for example how societal relations are being shaped according to the mold of technology and not the other way round. It is as if technology is shaping, disciplinizing us and we have never actually controlled it. One case in point is the use of industrial machinery; because machines can function 24/7, human beings are forced to work night shifts (or for example how human movements are constituted by the speed of an industrial conveyor belt). However, your thoughts in the first two paragraphs are kind of contradicted with what you claim in the last paragraph, where you claim that sufficient knowledge could help us to harness technology and that way environmental problems would not have occurred. It is precisely the belief that we can use technology in an instrumental way, like it is just another tool, that obscures the power of technology to shape us. I believe Hornborg’s definition of technology is not narrowed down only to machinery, appliances, gadgets, but is a more fundamental way of organizing economy, hence our time and our lives. When it comes to the notion of time, I find your distinction between time as an external reality and physiological time very interesting; by compressing our physiological time, we have an illusion of gaining some time in a general sense, whereas it is actually the other way round, because our time is all we have. I think that is one of the greatest illusions of capitalism, by taking time away from us, it creates an illusion that it is actually giving us time. I have drifted away now, so I would just like to conclude that we should be wary of optimistic faith in technological fixes and apply a political critique to the credo that techno knowledge will save us.
As for the matter of GDP and technology overlap and your claim that technology perpetuates the income gap, I agree with you fully, since technology is a manifestation of capital accumulation and a way of organizing labour according to the demands of capital. All in all, you wrote a very good reflection and brought up new ideas, like for example distinction between two kinds of time. I believe that could be a very productive line of thought.