LibrarianShipwreck

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The Social Construction of Acceleration – A review of Judy Wajcman’s book Pressed for Time

Patience seems anachronistic in an age of high speed downloads, same day deliveries, and on-demand assistants who can be summoned by tapping a button. Though some waiting may still occur the amount of time spent in anticipation seems to be constantly diminishing, and every day a new bevy of upgrades and devices promise that tomorrow things will be even faster. Such speed is comforting for those who feel that they do not have a moment to waste. Patience becomes a luxury for which we do not have time, even as the technologies that claimed they would free us wind up weighing us down.

Yet it is far too simplistic to heap the blame for this situation on technology, as such. True, contemporary technologies may be prominent characters in the drama in which we are embroiled, but as Judy Wajcman argues in her book Pressed for Time, we should not approach technology as though it exists separately from the social, economic, and political factors that shape contemporary society. Indeed, to understand technology today it is necessary to recognize that “temporal demands are not inherent to technology. They are built into our devices by all-too-human schemes and desires” (3). In Wajcman’s view, technology is not the true culprit, nor is it an out-of-control menace. It is instead a convenient distraction from the real forces that make it seem as though there is never enough time.

Wajcman sets a course that refuses to uncritically celebrate technology, whilst simultaneously disavowing the damning of modern machines. She prefers to draw upon “a social shaping approach to technology” (4) which emphasizes that the shape technology takes in a society is influenced by many factors. If current technologies leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and unsatisfied it is to our society we must look for causes and solutions – not to the machine.

* * *

This review was written for the Digital Studies section of the website Boundary 2, the review can be read in full there…

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6 comments on “The Social Construction of Acceleration – A review of Judy Wajcman’s book Pressed for Time

  1. milanioliva
    October 2, 2015
  2. David
    October 2, 2015

    Well, I would say she is off the mark only in that the forces shaping the technology are driven by profits and use sophisticated marketing techniques to continue the drive towards total digital immersion. This in itself is driven by mass consumerism. Short of a massive revolution overturning the current freee market system, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

    One of the most pernicious aspects of this is that the tech companies have found a way to get us to participate in their efforts, undermining our privacy and even humanity. Zygmunt Bauman writes in Moral Blindness:

    “As for the death of ‘anonymity’ courtesy of the internet….we submit our rights to privacy to the slaughter of our own will. Or perhaps we just consent to the loss of privacy as a reasonable price for the wonders offered in exchange. Or the pressure to deliver our personal autonomy to the slaughterhouse is so overwhelming, so close to the condition of a flock of sheep, that only a few exceptionally rebellious, bold, pugnacious and resolute wills will earnestly attempt to withstand it. One way or the other, we are however offered, at least nominally, a choice, as well as a semblance at least of a two-way contract, and at least a formal right to protest and sue in case of its breach: something that in the case of mechanical drones that spy on us without asking our permission is never given.

    “All the same: once we are in, we stay hostages to fate. The collective intelligence of the internet’s 2 billion users, and the digital fingerprints that so many users leave on websites, combine to make it more and more likely that every embarrassing video, every intimate photo, and every indelicate e-mail is attributed to its source, whether that source wants it to be or not….Everything private is now done, potentially, in public–and is potentially available for the duration, ’till the end of time, as the internet ‘can’t be made to forget’ anything once recorded on any of its innumerable servers. “This erosion of anonymity is a product of pervasive social media services, cheap cell phone cameras, free photo and video web hosts, an perhaps most important of all, a change in people’s views about what ought to be public and what ought to be private” [quoting Briant Stelter]. All those technical gadgets being, we are told, ‘user-friendly’–though that favourite phrase of commercial copy means, under close scrutiny, a product incomplete without the user’s labour, after the pattern of IKEA furniture. And let me add: with users’ enthusiastic devotion and deafening applause. A contemporary Etienne de la Boetie would probably be tempted to speak not of a voluntary, but DIY servitude.”

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