The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr is a provocative text that evaluates how human cognition is influenced by automation. The book is based on the simple assertion that as machines become smarter, human beings have become increasingly isolated and dumber. The author explores topics including digitized medicine, wearable computers, factory robots, and automated cars and their impact on work and leisure. While technology has significantly improved our lives, it takes away a lot from us. The arguments presented in the text are based on neurological and psychological studies that study how individuals’ happiness is linked to performing engaging tasks. Carr confirms that shifting people’s attention to technology has made them discontented and disengaged. He looks in to the technological advancements that have taken place over the years from a human standpoint and studies economic and personal consequences of the increasing reliance on computers. The text is a combination of science, poetry, and philosophy and takes into account the early theories proposed by Alfred North Whitehead and Adam Smith. It also focuses on modern research on happiness, memory and human attention leading to an account of how technology is used to advance the human experience. The author presents fallacies in the text that do not diminish the argument that technology has affected human cognition.
The primary goal of the text is to teach the audience about the merits and demerits of technology and how it can be used to benefit the human race. To start with, Carr argues that automation has its benefit. It follows that technology has offered comforts that the older generations did not access. Additionally, it has made lives much secure as seen from the innovation of automated cars that will improve safety on the roads. On the other hand, automation has made people more independent of technology to perform tasks. Consequently, they have forgotten to perform essential functions. This has been attributed to various air crashes as pilots were not in a position to act with the planes in autopilot mode. The technological glass cage can be attributed to the Air France, and the New York Continental Connection crashes in 2009. The main lesson is that automation is neither intrinsically beneficial nor destructive and should be used appropriately.
The author addresses the human race to be aware of the benefits and demerits of technology and calls on them to use it as tools in performing diverse tasks. He looks into the latest advancements in technology and evaluates how they can be used to improve lives. Carr also offers a stern warning on the automation that has caused destruction such as the autopilot mode on planes and the loss of the job that is attributed to the use of machines particularly in the industrial sector. Industrialists and manufacturers are addressed with regards to the use of automation resulting in unemployment and the loss of critical skills in the workforce. Carr addresses governments by urging them to find the balance in the use of automation in the industrial sector to allow technology use while retaining employment.
Different theorists warned against technological unemployment. Arguments against the continued use of automation have been discussed over the years. For instance, in 1956 Robert Hugh Macmillan who worked as a professor at Cambridge University posed the contention query, ‘Are we in danger of being destroyed by our own creations?’ He made the observation based on the argument that machines were being used to perform manual tasks and the new technology was being used to conduct mentally engaging duties. Carr stated that this would contribute to extensive unemployment as predicted by Karl Marx. Macmillan, however, noted that this did not have to be the state of affairs as machines could be used to make work easier, improve growth and development and improve economic stability. Macmillan stated that automation would continue playing a pivotal role in society and the industrial sector.
Carr stated that machines have their demerits as they threaten the concepts that the human race holds dear. He argued that machines have power and this can be controlled by financiers and industrialists. They are mindless and cold while compared to humans. This means that they cannot operate some tasks that require human effort and contribution. Bertrand Russell, a philosopher, and mathematician argued that machines are valued as they grant power. On the other hand, automation is hated as it imposes slavery and is seen to be hideous. These observations are in line with the views held by Karl Marx that automation could result in unemployment and this would affect a high number of individuals in the population.
Automation has been argued to facilitate labor by supporting man in performing his duties. Carr noted that mechanization has supported industrial production and this benefits owners through increased productivity. As a result, industrialists can hire more individuals and buy more machines. Individuals that buy machines that lead to abridgment of labor contribute to the increase in labor demand in the long-run. Adam Smith mentioned the introduction of a diverse variety of tools that would increase the rates of employment in the long-run. Smith’s position has been supported by a wide range of thinkers. They observed that an increase in productivity attributed to automation leading to the use of labor-saving approaches would lead to a rise in employment opportunities and wages. As a result, workers would make more money paving the way for them to buy products sold by the manufacturers promoting economic growth and development. This would provide adequate capital for industrial advancement. In this way, automation establishes a cycle of economic expansion and growth facilitating the achievement of what Smith referred to as ‘convenience and luxury.’ While the idea was not compelling to capitalists in the olden days, it was supported by social reformers that perceived it as the best approach in fighting servitude and poverty in urban populations.
Carr observed that if automation is found to be better, faster and cheaper, it is preferred over labor. He based this on the argument that machines are replacing employees in factories at a faster rate than economic growth generates manufacturing positions. Carr noted that industrial robots have become adept and cheaper and the gap between the new job opportunities and positions lost has widened over the years. However, this is not the case as factories rely on labor to perform critical functions. The development of ideal robots that can be used to achieve diverse tasks is in the development stage which means that companies depend on labor to perform their essential functions. Companies such as GE and Apple have been contracting some manufacturing work from the US which has been argued to be bittersweet due to automation. The move is expected to lead to the creation of jobs in the US as most of the tasks will be performed by employees. Carr noted that companies in the present times should not worry about labor costs. This is untrue as companies rely on labor to perform diverse tasks such as consultancy and human resource management.
Thinkers that built on Smith’s assertion on labor had a skewed view on the impact of automation on employment. They predicted that labor-saving equipment could increase employment opportunities. However, automation has been observed to lead to job loss over the years as it replaces manual labor with machines that are more efficient and economical in performing manual tasks.
Automation has been argued to lead to an increase in labor demand in the long run. Carr was wrong in making this assertion as the use of machines has resulted in a decline in the market for labor in factories. This is because automation saves factories money that is used in diverse projects including further automation and establishing more plants. Carr believes that computers are being designed to take up white collar jobs with individuals being forced to take up part-time jobs or low paying positions. However, people still hold managerial positions in most companies which means that computer programs have not yet taken up white collar jobs.
In conclusion, Carr’s argument could have been improved by the use of statistics to study the impact of automation on employment. He could have studied automation in different sectors to understand how it contributes to economic growth and development and its effects on the population. Carr gives a compelling look into the negative impacts of automation and offers insight on how it can be used to benefit humankind.