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"The Glass Cage", written by Harvard alumnus Nicholas Carr, ironically places him in the shoes of an uneducated English textile artisan of the 19th century, known as a Luddite. Luddites protested against the industrial revolution because machines were replacing jobs formerly done by laborers. Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment, diminishes craftsmanship, and reduces human volition.
Unquestionably, the advent of automation is traumatic but elimination of repetitive industrial labor by automation is as much a benefit to civilization as the industrial revolution was to low wage workers spinning textile frames. There is no question that employment was lost in the industrial revolution; just as it is in the automation age, but jobs have been and will continue to be created as the world adjusts to this new stage of productivity. Carr carries the Luddite argument a step further by inferring a mind’s full potential may only be achieved through a conjunction of mental and physical labor. Carr posits the loss of physical ability “to make and do things” diminishes civilization by making humans too dependent on automation.
This period of the world’s adjustment is horrendously disruptive. It is personal to every parent or person that cannot feed, clothe, and house their family or them self because they have no job. Decrying the advance of automation is not the answer. Making the right political decisions about how to help people make the transition is what will advance civilization.
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I work for a home automation company (Control4), so I eagerly wanted a well-grounded view of the problems of automation. Instead, Carr's book wound up being pretty thin stew.
Carr's major flaw is a lack of critical thinking. Throughout he offers numerous--sometimes frightening--anecdotes highlighting the hazards of automation, but never does he compare with non-automated systems. For example, he cites a few cases of airline incidents caused by pilots who have allegedly lost their muscle memory for flying aircraft because automation has reduced their active participation in controlling planes. But Carr then utterly fails to compare whether we had fewer pilot error instances when aircraft were less automated. With tens of thousands of aircraft aloft each day, is flying more dangerous now than they were when systems were less automated, and therefore more prone to human error? Carr provides nothing in this seemingly obvious regard. Without demonstrating that automation has made flight more dangerous based on real comparisons, Carr just comes off as Henny Penny.
Similarly, Carr tries at one point to proclaim that automation is making jobs scarce. But Carr makes this assertion without consulting modern day economists. It could be true, but I don't see a compelling case laid out. Carr only offers more doom-and-gloom postulation. Custom Electronics installation in homes--my field--is now a booming industry, and companies that deal in it can't hire skilled technicians fast enough. As another reviewer (Chet Yarbrough) points out, people may need help adapting to the change, but that does not mean we can stop the advance of automation.
I came to this book looking for a solid analysis of the negative impacts of automation. What I got was a lot of unsubstantiated hypotheses and fearful anecdotes. The only thing certain that listening to this book got me was this: Carr doesn't like automation.
6 of 10 people found this review helpful