Does technological automation liberate us from drudgery or make us slaves to machines? In this course, we will explore this question through a series of existential experiments.
Full Automation = the holy grail of industrial revolution. Once robots can do the boring and laborious tasks, the prophecy goes, we can be free from drudgery, liberated to enjoy abundant leisure and luxury!
But does outsourcing our activity to machines actually make us free?
Today, despite programmable slow-cookers, digital home assistants, robotic vacuum cleaners, and self-driving cars around the (literal?) corner, most of us still spend our days repetitively clicking around on our various machines and then unwinding at night by clicking around the same machines for entertainment. With the time and energy liberated from burdens of manual labor, we have become addicted to our devices and conditioned by our appliances!
In this course we will interrogate the the Liberation Through Automation promise through a series of existential experiments, informed by a range of theoretical positions on the liberating and conditioning effects of automation.
An existential experiment is an intervention into one's own life for the purpose of self-inquiry. We often make life interventions with the goal of self-improvement. For example, we may take up an exercise habit to influence our health or body shape. In doing so, we are making a kind of hypothesis: If I do A, it will cause B to happen. If I exercise, my body will change to conform to my aspired standard. More rarely, we may experiment with interventions for the purpose of self-inquiry. For example, we might try an elimination diet to see how different foods make us feel, or keep a dream journal to see if we notice any patterns between our the images our subconscious shows us and our waking life. The goal of such an experiment is to make us more informed about a hidden aspect of our particular existential condition. Another way to think about an existential experiment might be as a game playing which helps us see something new.
For this course, we will be engaging in existential experiments to explore the relationship between automation (making things happen mechanically, repetitively, unconsciously, often with the use of technology) and liberation (the process of becoming free from bondage, oppression, conditioning). Specifically, we will:
Delegate repetitive tasks to digital automation tools to see how freed up we become;
Automate our own behaviors through habit hacking and explore whether a perfectly integrated workflow is the thing we need to unshackle us from our burdens;
Unplug from our automated routines to look for freedom and spaciousness in unexpected openings;
Embrace complexity and uncertainty of our technomorphic worlds and play with imperfect feedback loops.
At each session, we will engage in reflection exercises and experimental games to help us collectively feel into the key concepts of the class. Then each participant will customize and commit to a personal experiment to conduct throughout the following week. We will record our experiments in Hyperspace (Hyperlink Academy's rhizomatic notetaking platform) and share our results at the start of the next session.
Two complementary concepts will guide our experiments. The first is the archetype of the hacker as described by media theorist McKenzie Wark in A Hacker Manifesto. The hacker is a contemporary subject (a modern day bricoleur) that continuously creates new possibilities in the world out of whatever is at hand. Striving to break free from various dominating scripts, structures, and routines, we will embody the hacker and forge new forms and relations out of bits of existing technologies, recombined with our own unique interests and capacities!
The second inspiration for our experiments will be the concept of epistemological Luddism. Proposed by political theorist Langdon Winner in his book Autonomous Technology, epistemological Luddism is a heuristic for evaluating and engaging with technology by deconstructing, refusing, abstaining from, and abandoning machines, techniques and infrastructures (rather than endlessly investing in maintaining and upgrading them). Experimenting with epistemological Luddism, we will unplug, withdraw from, and maybe even destroy a few machines, perhaps reclaiming some of our autonomy and agency in the process.
Each of the four weeks will have its own theoretical anchor: Automation, Automata, Autonomy, and Autopoiesis. Here's a rough diagram of how the theories overlap:
At the end of the course, you will have a personal definition of liberation and deeper insight into your own relationship to technology, automation, and productivity. You will also gain a method for designing and conducting personal existential experiments that you can continue to use in the future!
Hi! I'm Natalia. I am an Existential Game Maker/Destroyer and Researcher.
I myself have a long and ambivalent relationship to technology – as a teen immigrant, I simultaneously learned English and HTML on internet. As an adult, I have been a non-profit "accidental techie," a technology education consultant, a researcher of infrastructures, and a learning experience designer. I've even found true romance online more than once 👩💻❤️ I love cool new apps and to automate boring things! And I also hate how addicted I am to my devices, and regularly try to get myself to a place in the woods with no WiFi.
I don't have "the answer" to the question of whether Automation will (or will not) Liberate us, but I believe that engaging in existential experiments together is a form of prefigurative practice that can help us create a more just and joyful postcapitalist world.
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