Machines

Posted by edlmiddletown on 2016 in Insights

by Maren Orchard

 

“alarm goes off; thinking: “oh, no, Ihavetogetup. Ihatethisfuckingshit. Ihategettingupso fuckingearly” (Informant 9)

Man’s relationship with technology has been controversial since the Industrial Revolution brought machines to the forefront of everyday life. Workers spent hours on the job at the machine, giving rise to the Marxist concept of man being an appendage of the machine. The body and the machine develop an intimate relationship based on intertwined dependency and a certain uncertainty: is the machine defined by the human body, or is the human body defined by the machine?

“Alarm goes off at 6:25 am…. I get to hit snooze this morning” (Informant 1)

Today, our interaction with technology and the machine has shifted to the individual and their need to cope in a world demanding accessibility, mobility, flexibility, and speed. Machines are developed, redeveloped, scrapped, reimagined, and reproduced in a constant effort to create a product to satisfy the consumer, guaranteeing to improve the function of our everyday lives and making our lives more habitable.

“I have an alarm that goes off on my phone every few minutes…” (Informant 1) 

 

alarmscreenshotWe define how technology interacts with the body to manipulate how it interacts with the world. The technology carried in our pockets and worn on our bodies has a variety of functions in our everyday life. Informant 1, a modern, middle-class working woman to whom family comes first, describes how the alarms programmed in her phone coordinates her family’s morning routine. This practiced routine of her everyday life relies on precise repetition. Mediated by the alarm she carries, she becomes a living machine—focused on the repetitive motion necessary for efficient use of time. The successful execution of time serves to set the mood for her day, frustrated by a lack of punctuality, she lives by the clock, mimicking the synchronization and timeliness of the machine.

“Wake up to use the restroom. My alarm is set to go off in a half hour or so but I think I don’t have much to get done this morning so I set it back a while.” (Informant 13)

Marx was concerned in the 19th century that humans had become an appendage of the machine—that the individual was being lost to monotony, repetition, and movement programmed by a machine made of metal and gears. In the 21st century, we have adopted technology as a prosthesis; we find ourselves capable without it, but all the while it is becoming increasingly crucial to function. It seems permanent to our physical selves yet the technology itself is constantly being transformed — from flip phone to smartphone to watch — to meet the needs of society.

“8:25 my fitbit alarm is going off. It’s a reminder I should already be at my desk for work but I’ll be off until Wednesday” (Informant 1)

Technology can act as a tool to manage the increasing demands of a society, and without the regular reminders, Informant 1 worries that her family will fall behind. But a challenge emerges when machines are unable to detect the changes in our day or the moment we decide to snooze that alarm. We rely on our relationship with machines to function, but a machine must be told what to do; if we fail to tell our intimate, inanimate partner that our day’s schedule will be interrupted, it will continue to behave as previously programmed. Is this interaction with machinery a violation of an individual’s ability to break routine? Marx was concerned that by becoming machine-like, the individual loses their independence, charm, and character and develops the aesthetic of the machine, with little capacity to escape the rigidity of routine.

“Just before 6:00, awake. Grab Jawbone fitness tracker.” (Informant 12)

The body is the vessel through which we experience the world, and it is essential to our identification as humans and as individuals. Our bodies sync with machinery through time, but machinery itself can now monitor a few of the body’s most repetitive, routine functions—steps taken in a day, heart rate, and sleep cycles. An emotional desire to be more in touch with the body is evident, and the machine can be used to mediate the relationship, further blurring the understanding of our body’s dependency on the machine.

“Sunday alarm 7 am. My husband hits the off button and says ‘a few more minutes.’ We doze back off, I look at the clock it’s now 7:30” (Informant 1)

Not all individuals rely on technology and technology is not available to all individuals. This theory excludes a lower class which might not have the financial ability to make technology as readily available as it is to the middle class. But there is a pressure evident in society and in everyday life which is evident through advertisements, media, and industry. We are told that technology is the future; it is increasingly essential to everyday life, and it will make life easier and more manageable. Whether you believe it or not, well, that’s a question to ask your morning alarm.

“My alarm wakes me up at 6:11 a.m. and I get up from the couch still very tired” (Informant 3)

Technology and machines have allowed for time to guide the functions of our everyday life. The clocks on the wall, on our wrist, and on our phone remind us of our obligation to and dependency on the machine. The relationship between the machine and the body blurs, the prosthesis becoming indiscernible. And then, our morning alarm interrupts us from our dream, paying no attention to the needs of the body, and sets the tone for the rest of our days—machine induced exhaustion is our new aesthetic.