Our reliance on technology has concentrated wealth in America, making San Francisco the home of the most billionaires per capita than any other city. Almost all of them are white cisgender men. Long-standing wage gaps in Silicon Valley are widening, reproducing racial and class hierarchies that devalue housework, legwork and running errands, and obscuring the human cost of making it easier to order groceries or take-away. This dystopian side remains invisible, which helps us ignore it and stay entangled in it.
Prior to the pandemic, the grocery delivery app Instacart had reportedly hit hundreds of millions of dollars and struggled to make a profit. In March, the company quickly hired 300,000 people to meet demand at the height of the pandemic. As independent contractors, they were not eligible for healthcare benefits (although the company promised up to 14 paid days if they were diagnosed with Covid-19 or had to be quarantined). Instacart is now worth more than $ 17 billion. Many of its workers say they barely earn a minimum wage. The pandemic may have exposed class differences, but the technology that caused one group of people to put their health at risk while others who could afford to sit in the comfort of their own home exacerbated and exacerbated those inequalities.
Most tech companies have a sophisticated party line about how their culture supports their most vulnerable workers. Alice Vichaita, Head of Global Benefits at Pinterest, told me the company is trying to build an “inspired culture” for its employees with an emphasis on emotional wellbeing, which it sees as “a prerequisite for an inspiring life.” During the pandemic, the mood board search engine offered creative tutorials on creating masks and provided explanations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Meanwhile, the company has been in turmoil: in June, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks, two former black employees, sent reports of racist and sexist treatment and wage inequality, and in August, Françoise Brougher, the company’s former chief operating officer, sued Pinterest over Discrimination on the basis of sex. The disconnection between the outer offerings and the inner workings of the company reveals a dichotomy across the tech industry – the desire to show solidarity rather than issuing guidelines that demonstrate it. Pinterest did not admit liability in the case of Brougher (who is white) but paid a $ 22.5 million settlement. Ozoma and Banks reportedly left with a severance payment equal to half their annual salary. There is simply no free therapy or other corporate wellness benefit that can offset the toxicity of racism and sexism in the workplace.
end of January I went – which means I signed up for Zoom at the scheduled time – for a Dharma lecture entitled “How Technology Shapes Us”. I have tried to work on the tension, relying on mindfulness that is conveyed through an internet that is geared towards disrupting it. The day started with a short sitting, maybe 10 minutes. Even though I’ve sat in meditation for a lot longer, my brain itched and did the electric slide and pretty much anything it wanted to except dissolve into nothing. It was impossible to become a pillar of peace sitting in front of the blank screen I use for work and entertainment, the invisible and quiet draw of which was irresistible.
“We are already walking around with the seeds of dissatisfaction and the feeling that something could be better,” Randima Fernando, teacher of the Dharma discussion, told me later. “And the way we should manage that feeling of imperfection is taking a walk or meditating, but instead we are reaching for the supercomputers in our pockets.” The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life contains inevitable suffering. The second is that it is largely caused by cravings and cravings for material goods, a need that can never be satisfied. Much of the technology is aimed at convincing users that it can reduce this suffering by providing on-demand access to information, other people, food, and entertainment. But mostly it speeds it up.
Social media, for example, monetizes the urgency of the will, and there are economic incentives to keep us busy, unhappy, searching, and convinced that there is more to consume, something better to do, learn, or buy. Buddhism teaches that there are no quick fixes and that apps like Calm are better able to promote – and benefit from – recreational services than they actually do in meaningful ways. “Mindfulness is less about relieving stress and more about reducing dissatisfaction by directly examining our experiences,” said Fernando. “But marketing stress reduction is more effective and is definitely more likely to win a download or a corporate account.”