Sociology for Psychics

November 23, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I knew it was the ecological fallacy – using aggregate data to draw conclusions about individuals – but I took a shot. And even though I got a bull’s eye, more or less, the effect wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Here’s the story – sociological knowledge in action.

I wanted to make a change in my phone account, so I tried the “chat with one of our representatives online” option.

My chat window correspondent typed, by way of introduction, that she was Wendy M. Now Wendy was a name I hadn’t heard for a while. So as we were waiting for the system to register the changes I’d requested and that she was entering, I opened another window and looked for Wendy at the Census site on baby names.

The name Wendy had peaked in popularity in from 1969 to 1972, climbing as high as 28th place.
In the chat, I asked if Wendy was her real name or if perhaps she was really in Bangalore and Wendy was merely her nom de screen.

No, she assured me, she was Wendy, and she was in Georgia.

I guessed that the Georgia curve for Wendy might have lagged the national average by a year or two. So I said,
Me: OK, are you 37 years old?
Wendy: I’m 36.
And that was all. Not, “Wow, very close!” not “How did you know?” I thought she would be stunned – after all, the only cues I had were typed words in a chat window, no picture, no voice – and I had come within a few months of her precise age. But Wendy seemed utterly unimpressed with my psychic powers – far less than I had been. So I didn’t bother asking her about her school friends Jennifer, Kimberly, and Michelle.

(Previous posts about names here, here, and here.)

Jeopardy III: Losing Their Religion. Again.

July 1, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

I didn’t see this when it happened nearly three weeks ago. None of the three Jeopardy contestants knew “hallowed be thy name.”

Nor, until now, was I aware of the distress and outrage it provoked.

For me, it was déja vu.

I was on Jeopardy fifty years ago. At the studio, before the taping began, they had some of the contestants do a practice round. Presumably, this was to help us feel comfortable with the cameras and lights and other aspects of the set. I was not one of those selected, so I sat nearby and watched. One of the categories on the board was The Bible.

“OK, let’s go,” came the voice from the control room. They ran through a few questions, and then a contestant, after answering a question correctly, asked for The Bible.

The plate with “$10"* on it slid up revealing the question which the host then read: “In the Book of Matthew, he says, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

Silence. Nobody rang in. Then over the speakers came the deep voice from the control room: “They don’t come any easier in this category, people.”

* Yes, $10. The dollar values of questions then were 1/20 what they are now. For more on my Jeopardy appearances, see these earlier posts.

Not Ken Jennings, But . . .

Jeopardy II: Audiences — à la Goffman and ABC-TV

To Serve and Protect and Empathize

May 3, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

A friend of mine here in New York was the victim of a property crime, a larceny. The bad guys had broken into his car and taken whatever wasn’t locked down, mostly books as I recall (this happened a long time ago). He went to the local precinct to report it. Eventually the desk sergeant acknowledged his presence. “Somebody broke into my car and took all my stuff.”

“So what do you want me to do about it?” said the sergeant.

The officer’s response is understandable and quite reasonable. There’s no way the thief could be caught or the property recovered. Besides, this type of crime happened frequently. To fill out the paperwork or do anything would just be a waste of police time. My friend knew all this, but he was still not happy about the way the cops treated his victimization.

I remembered this anecdote when I saw some data from Portland showing low levels of satisfaction with a crime reporting system there. It also reminded me of the previous post about satisfaction with responses to medical questions. When people seek immediate medical advice online, they are more satisfied with the responses of a non-human (ChatGPT) than with those of a doctor. Doctors were five times more likely to get low ratings for both the quality of the information and the empathy conveyed. Three-fourths of their responses were rated low on empathy.

Something similar could be happening when people are victims of crime. In Portland, ss in many cities, victims of non-violent crimes can use the online reporting system rather than calling the cops. Most people find the system easy to use, and it frees police resources for other matters, but so far it’s not getting high marks. Only 16% of those who used it said they were “Satisfied” and nearly three times that many said they were “Dissatisfied.”

Could ChatGPT help?  As with medical reporting, the crucial factor is whether the police seem to be care about the case. People who received a call or email from the police in response to their online report were twice as likely to be satisfied, even though the callback sometimes came weeks after the victim had filed the report and even though many of the victims or property crime merely want a case number for insurance purposes.

ChatGPT or some similar program could send this kind of email and respond to questions the vicitm might have. I’m not sure what ChatGPT’s initial message would sound like, but it wouldn’t be, “So what do you want me to do about it?”  Putting ChatGPT on the case wouldn’t have any effect on the crime rate or the clearance rate, but it might make a difference in how people thought about their local police.

Your GP or ChatGPT

May 1, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Help. A couple of hours ago, I swallowed a wooden toothpick that the cook had missed when removing them from the stew he’d made. It wasn’t that long, an inch or so, and it couldn’t have been very sharp since I didn’t feel it much when I swallowed it. But can it be serious or even fatal?

A question similar to this was posted on Reddit’s r/AskDocs forum, where doctors or other healthcare professionals post answers. Here are two responses.

If youve surpassed 2-6 h, chances are theyve passed into your intestines. Which means it can’t be retrieved easily.

Many people can swallow razorblades and toothpicks without issue. In case you develop stomach ache, then don’t hesitate seeking out an emergency room, and remember to point out the swallowed tooth pick.

For now, they won
t be doing much.

Its natural to be concerned if you have ingested a foreign object, but in this case, it is highly unlikely that the toothpick you swallowed will cause you any serious harm.

Toothpicks are made of wood, which is not toxic and will not cause poisoning. However, it is possible for a toothpick to cause injury if it becomes stuck in the throat or if it punctures the digestive tract. However, this is unlikely to happen with a dull, cooked toothpick that is only 2 cm long.

If you are experiencing any discomfort or symptoms such as abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, or vomiting, it is important to contact a health care provider for further evaluation. However, if you are not experiencing any symptoms, it is safe assume that the toothpick has passed through your digestive system and you do not need to concerned.

s always a good idea to be cautious when consuming food and to remove any foreign objects before eating. It's understandable that you may be feeling paranoid, but try not to worry too much. It is highly unlikely that the toothpick will cause you any serious harm.

How would you rate the quality of each response on a 5-point Lkert scale (very poor, poor, acceptable, good, or very good)?

How would you rate the empathy or “bedside manner” of each response (not empathetic, slightly empathetic, moderately empathetic, empathetic, and very empathetic)?

The first response is from an actual doctor. The second is from ChatGPT.  Which did you rate more highly?

Chances are that your evaluation was no different from those of a team of three licensed healthcare professionals who reviewed 200 sets of questions and answers. On measures of both quality and empathy, ChatGPT won hands down. (The JAMA article reporting these findings is here.)

On a five-point scale of overall quality, the ChatGPT average was 4.13, Doctors 3.26. (On the graph below, I have multiplied these by 10 so that all the results fit on the same axis.) On both Quality and Empathy, Doctors got far more low (1-2) ratings (very poor, poor; not empathetic, slightly empathetic), far fewer high (4-5) ratings.

The great irony is that the doctors tended to be impersonal while the machine (ChatGPT) responded to the patient as a person, not just a symptom reporter.

People who ask medical questions are worried. If you have something going on with your body that seems wrong, and you don’t know what it is, you probably are going to have some anxiety about it. So ChatGPT might begin with a general statement (“It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to head injuries,” “It’s not normal to have persistent pain, swelling, and bleeding. . . “) or an expression of concern (“I’m sorry to hear that you got bleach splashed in your eye”). The doctors generally focused on the symptom, its causes and treatment.

Doctor responses were considerably more brief than those of ChatGPT (on average, 50 words compared with 200). That’s partly because of time. If doctors were at all concerned with an efficient use of their time, they couldn’t turn out the longer responses that ChatGPT generated in a few seconds.

But I think there’s something else. For patients, the symptom is new and unusual. They feel worried and anxious because they don’t know what it is. But the doctor has seen it a thousand times. It’s routine, not the sort of thing that requires a lot of thought. Here’s the diagnosis, here’s the recommended treatment, and maybe here are some other options. Next.

A Boy’s View of the Boys of Summer

April 28, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

The previous post was about the belief that a ballplayer with a modicum of talent should keep at the game regardless of the sacrifices he has to make or his realistic probability of success. I added a Durkheimian gloss -– that this belief and its attendant rituals are essentially non-rational; they are a mechanism for group cohesion. The baseball-as-divinity belief serves the purposes of the group as a group, not of its individual members.

I myself once held this belief. Of course, I was fairly young at the time. Two moments stand out in my memory.

1.  When I was young, probably at the low end of Little League age range, my father let me tag along once when he was meeting casually with a man he had some kind of business deal with, buying or selling steel not that it matters. The man’s name was Mickey Weintraub, and although he was probably in his forties at the time, he looked much younger. He was tanned and handsome, and he just had one of those eternally young faces. He had also been a professional baseball player, an infielder.

He had spent years in the Giants farm system, Double-A and Triple-A minor leage teams, but had never quite been able to make it to the majors. Good field, no hit, I think. The Giants were still in New York then, and they figured that a player named Weintraub in the line-up would boost attendance at the Polo Grounds. So they were willing to keep giving him a chance.

“Every year, I’d go to spring training in Arizona, and they’d ask me ‘How old are you.’ And every year, I’d say ‘twenty-four.’ I could have gone on like that forever.”

“Why didn’t you?” I asked. I was incredulous that he had ever stopped.

“You can’t fool your legs.”

At age nine, I didn’t understand about legs and how 32-year old legs might be different than 24-year old legs. But what I really didn’t understand was why someone would stop playing baseball and go into the steel business.

2.  When I was twelve or so, I went with my parents to visit my younger brother at summer camp. One of the counselors there had until recently been a pitcher for Montreal, which was then the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team. He was what we would have then called a “light-skinned Negro,” and tall, like the Dodgers’s ace Don Newcombe but better looking. He was also apparently not quite as good as Newk; he had not been called up to the majors.

Somehow, I wound up playing catch with him. We had thrown the ball back and forth for a while when he said, “Can you catch a curve ball?”

“Sure,” I said. After all, some of my friends that I’d caught could throw pitches that broke a few inches. He took a short wind-up, leaning back then bringing his body and arm forward. The ball seemed to be headed for my left shoulder or maybe a little higher when suddenly it spun downward and to the right, and next thing I knew it was sailing past my right leg. I could hardly believe what I’d just seen. Embarrassed, I turned and trotted back to the bushes where the ball had finally stopped rolling.  

I don’t remember if we kept playing or if he threw any other curve balls and if so whether I caught them. I just remember thinking: How could anyone who can throw a pitch like that not keep trying to get in the Dodgers’ rotation?

I heard from one of the other counselors that he was going to med school.

Durkheim at the Bat: The Elementary Forms of Baseball Life

April 27, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Drew Maggi was a 15th-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2010. He played in the minor leages for thirteen years — Double-A and Triple-A farm teams of a half-dozen different MLB franchises, 1,155 games, 4,494 times at the plate,  Yesterday, three weeks shy of his 34th birthday, he made his first appearance in a MLB game. He was a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning in a game the Pirates (the division-leading Pirates!) were winning 8-1. He struck out.

The fans cheered. They had cheered even more loudly the moment he was announced. All the Pirates in the dugout had cheered and applauded. And after the game, he was interviewed on the field and on the jumbotron just as if he had hit a walk-off home run.

I imagine Durkheim watching all this, sitting somewhere in the upper deck, thoughtfully sipping a beer. Yes, this is a celebration of Drew Maggi, he thinks, but rituals — and surely this is a ritual — even when they focus on some central individual, are performed not just by the group but for the group. What’s being extolled here is not Drew Maggi, it’s baseball itself. The important point is that we are acting here not as individuals doing what’s in our self-interest, but as members of the group, doing what’s necessary for the group.

Groups come together for these rituals often in response to some threat. External threats are obvious. In the face of threat from another team, we wave our yellow towels. Internal threats are harder to see, but when you see people reacting as if to a threat, and they are not under attack, the threat is probably internal. Quitters are a good example.

A quitter is a threat to the group not because the group is left with one less team member. What’s at stake is the whole premise of the group, because what the quitter is saying is that the very basis for the group  is silly or stupid or harmful. That’s why group reactions can seem way out of proportion. Two years ago, I wrote (here)  about the reaction, especially on the political right, when Simone Biles, for perfectly understandable reasons, chose not to participate in the Olympics. “Quitter,” “selfish psychopath,” “very selfish ... immature ... a shame to the country,” “selfish, childish, national embarrassment.” Jason Whitlock at The Blaze wrote about Biles’s “felonious act of quitting.” Yes, a felony.

Drew Maggi is the other side of this coin. Minor league players have about a 10% chance of making it “to the show,” and even those odds dwindle with age. In sports, thirtysomethings are not exactly hot prospects. The annual salary is less than $30,000 (Triple-A minimum is $700 a week). As for working conditions, the principal attraction is that you get to play baseball. A lot. The sensible thing for a 34-year old man who for thirteen years has never gotten to the major leagues would have been to quit. We the group, we fans and players, raise Drew Maggi up as the focus of this ritual because he symbolizes the reassuring idea that despite all that, baseball is worth it.

Durkheim drains the last of his beer as the fans file for the exits. This spontaneous ritual in PNC Park, he thinks, has the same function as nearly all other rituals: to uphold the fundamental idea of the group and to reaffirm each participant as a part of that group.

Mrs. Maisel Yet Again — 1961 Talking Like It’s 2011.

April 18, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Five years ago, I posted here about the language anachronisms in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” That post (here) remains the most visited page in this blog, the number of views now approaching 20,000. Last night I watched the first two episodes of Season Five, and I have the same question that I had five years ago with Season One: How can they let these obvious anachronisms make it into the final script?

In Season Five, the year is 1961, and Midge has taken a job in the writers’ room for a TV show much like The Tonight Show. She was reluctant to take the job – she’s a performer, not a writer — and on her first day, she calls her manager Susie to ask for advice.

Fake it till you make it may be good advice, but nobody used that phrase in 1961. Nobody. Nor did anyone talk about “going rogue.” But in Episode One, Midge tells Susie, “We had a plan, then I went rogue.”

I ran these phrases by Google nGrams. Here are the results:

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

These phrases did not exist in 1961. Yes,the nGrams data is from books, and trendy phrases turn up in speech — in conversations, on television — before they appear in print, so we should allow for some lag time. A few years perhaps, but not a few decades.

There were others you can find on nGrams: out of the loop, track record, not on the same page. These too arrived much later in the century. Other words in Season Five just sounded wrong --- at least to my ears, and my ears were around in 1961 —  but I had no quick way to check them: not gonna happen, and suck meaning to be of poor quality.

In that 2018 post, I quoted Amy Sherman-Palladino, co-creator and chief writer of the show saying that she hired a “delightful researcher who has like twelve masters degrees in everything in the world” and who questions things that don’t sound right. Sherman-Palladino herself says, “The last thing I want to do, when everyone is making sure that the piping on the wall and the colors are all correct, is . . . come in and throw in a bunch of dialogue that’s not appropriate.”

But the glaring anachronisms remain, and I’m still puzzled.

Mimi Sheraton and Me

April 10, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

Mimi Sheraton, long-time food critic for the New York Times, died last week.

It may be difficult now to appreciate just how big a deal Mimi Sheraton was.  In the late 1970s and early 80s, food and restaurants had become an important part of the cultural landscape. Huge steaks and the like were for men with a lot of money and not much of a palate. On the rise were nouvelle cuisine and authentic ethnic restaurants. More important, information about these places was highly centralized. In 1975 when Mimi Sheraton started at the Times, there was no Zagat’s and of course no Yelp or the  dozens of online restaurant review sites today. There was Mimi, and everybody knew who she was.

Our paths crossed once, briefly many years ago. I was on jury duty one morning in early January back in the early 80s – civil court, downtown Manhattan. A woman was suing the movie theater where she had fallen or tripped, presumably suffering some injury. Civil court judges, to make more efficient use of their time, were not present for voir dire, at least not in this case. The lawyers conducted voir dire themselves. If some dispute arose, they would pause the proceeding and walk down the hall to see the judge.

Even to non-attorney eyes, these lawyers did not seem like the brightest lights in the room. One of my fellow jurors, a philosophy professor (it was Winter Break for him too) said to me, “If my students asked such questions, I would fail them.” It also seemed they weren’t listening closely to the answers.

The plaintiff’s lawyer was questioning a prospective juror, one Mimi Falcone. “And what do you do Miss Falcone – is it Miss or Mrs.?”

“I’m a food critic. I write a column under the name . . .”

But the lawyer wasn’t listening. As soon as she said she said “food critic,” he started speaking over her.  “Where do you write your reviews. I mean if you were someone like Mimi Sheraton. . . .”

She interrupted him firmly. “I am Mimi Sheraton.”

From there, things went even further south. “Are you familiar with the Coronet Theater?”

“I’m not sure which it is,” she said, ‘The Coronet or the Baronet” (the two theaters stood side by side on the Upper East Side), “but one of them has this terrible staircase.”

Ms. Falcone was not selected for the jury.

But I was.. Go to lunch, we six jurors were told, and after lunch we’ll begin the trial. But before we left, we approached Mimi Sheraton and asked her to recommend a restaurant in Chinatown. She did, and we went. It was more expensive than most Chinatown lunch places, but most of us could afford it, and for the one who might have chosen a more modest place — an underpaid secretary as I recall – the rest of us shared her part of the bill.  The food was great, and different from much Chinatown fare. Mimi had not steered us wrong.

We returned to the courtroom ready to hear the case only to be told that the parties had reached a settlement. That’s often happens in civil cases. But most civil court juries don’t get a personal recommendation from Mimi Sheraton.

Lyin’ Eyes

March 22, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

During the protests over the killing of a Black man in Kenosha, WE, CNN reported that the demonstrations were “mostly peaceful.” Unfortuantely, the background visual behind the reporter showed a lot of fire.

The right-wing had a field day.

Technically, CNN was correct. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful. But that didn’t matter. What mattered were those who posed the greatest threats, the ones who torched those buildings.

And now we have Tucker Carlson (here) saying that the “overwhelming majority” of people who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 were “peaceful.” Carlson acknowledges that a “small percentage of them were hooligans. They committed vandalism.” But the overwhelming majority “were orderly and meek. These were not insurrectionist. They were sightseers.”  He has the tape to prove it. In fact, he has all the tape – 41,000 hours. The Republicans on the House committee gave it to him to edit as he sees fit. No doubt, the Carlson cut will show very orderly people, meekly trying to overturn an election that their candidate lost by seven million votes.

Technically, Carlson is correct. The  overwhelming majority —especially if you expand the denominator to include the tens of thousands of Trump supporters who came to the rally that day but did not invade the Capitol — were not hooligans. But again, the numbers don’t matter. What matters are the violent insurrectionists. This small minority are important because they posed the greatest threat to the democratic institutions of the government and to the police who were trying to protect the Capital and the Representatives and staffers who work there. That’s why, as Carlson laments, “you’ve seen their pictures again and again.”  But who are you gonna believe – Tucker Carlson or your lyin’ eyes?

There’s a larger and more complex question topic in these demonstrations — the relation between the overwhelming majority and the extreme minority. It’s far too complex to go into here, especially in the case of Jan. 6.

Check and Double-Check Your Conservatism

March 15, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

In 2014, the Princeton Tory, the campus conservative publication, ran a piece condemning the phrase “check your privilege” and the ideas behind it (here). The author, Tal Fortgang complained that “the phrase . . . assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it,”

Check-your-privilege diminishes “everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life” and “ascrib[es] all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive.”

This is standard conservative thinking — the individual-reductionist belief that those who wind up in elite schools and eventually in high-paying jobs have gotten there solely on the basis of their own personal qualities like intelligence, perseverance, grittiness, etc. Privilege — the social class of their parents — had nothing to do with it. They are all self-made successes. (This conservative take makes an exception for Blacks, women, and other previously excluded groups. They have reached their position not through ability and virtue, but through favoritism in the form of institutional programs emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion.)

So you can imagine my surprise when I read George Will, a reliably conservative columnist, making basically the same “check your privilege” attacks on elite-school students (here . The students in question were the Stanford Law students who had wielded the hecklers’ veto against Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan, who the schools conservative organization (the Federalist Society) had invited to speak.

(The only videos of this event that I could find online, here for example, pick up at the point where a Stanford administrator makes a long statement to the students in the room, telling them that she too disagrees with Judge Duncan, that they are free to leave in protest, but that those who stay should allow him to speak. The end of the video clip shows a lot of students walking out and the rest sitting there quietly.)

George Will of course is horrified by the thought of students not allowing someone to speak. He even has snide things to say about the administrator who got things quieted down. But what really ticks him off is the background of the students, their having grown up in privilege.

So, “helicopter parents” hover over their offspring to spare them abrasive encounters with the world. And “participation trophies” are given to everyone on the soccer team, lest the excellence of a few dent others’ self-esteem — the fuel that supposedly propels upward social mobility.

Larded with unstinting parental praise and garlanded with unearned laurels, these cosseted children arrive at college thinking highly of themselves and expecting others to ratify their complacent self-assessment. Surely it was as undergraduates that Stanford’s law school silencers became what they are: expensively credentialed but negligibly educated brats.

You might have expected Will to praise kids who managed to get into Stanford Law. I mean, you’ve gotta be really smart and have really good grades and crush the LSAT, and it probably helps to have gotten into a college where you get really good education. But Will seems to think that all this was handed to these students and that instead of working at their studies for years, they lolled around idling in undeserved self-satisfaction. In Will’s view, they are examples of what Molly Ivins said of George W. Bush — that he was born on third base thinking he had hit a triple. Somehow, I doubt that Stanford Law has has as many “legacy” admissions as Yale did in the early 1960s.

Compared with the “check your privilege” students (and sociology faculty) at Princeton, George Will’s version is simplistic, crude, and devoid of evidence.

New Technologies, Old Attitudes

March 5, 2023
Posted by Jay Livingston

What do our reactions to AI, UFOs, and DMT have in common? Ross Douthat, in today’s Times (here), has an answer:

There is a shared spirit in these stories, a common impulse to the quests: the desire to encounter or invent some sort of nonhuman consciousness that might help us toward leaps that we can’t make on our own. The impulse is an ancient one: The idea tha one might bind a djinn, create a golem or manipulate a god or fairy to do your bidding is inscribed deep in the human imagination.

Surprisingly, Douthat does not remind us that these deals with nonhumans always turn out badly for the humans. He seems to share in the optimism for, as the column’s title has it, “the return of the magicians.” In his mention of Dr. Faustus, Douthat says only that “the scientist and the magician were often overlapping figures in the early modern imagination, blurring together in vocations like alchemy and characters like Dr. Faustus.” Douthat sees blurring. Not so bad. What’s a little blurring? But the central plot element in the story is that Dr. Faustus sells his soul to the devil.

I was reminded of Philip Slater’s far less sanguine take on this kind of thinking in his book The Pursuit of Loneliness, published in 1970. That was more than a half-century ago, but it still seems accurate. Here is a long excerpt..

All societies, optimally, must allow for both change and stability.... Every society evolves patterns for attempting to realize these mutually incompatible needs.

Our society, as many have pointed out, has traditionally handled the problem by giving completely free rein to technological change and opposing the most formidable obstacles to social change. Since, however, technological change in fact forces social changes upon us, this has had the effect of abdicating all control over our social environment to a kind of whimsical deity. While we think of ourselves as a people of change and progress, masters of our environment and our fate, we are no more entitled to this designation than the most superstitious savage, for our relation to change is entirely passive. We poke our noses out the door each day and wonder breathlessly what new disruptions technology has in store for us. We talk of technology as the servant of man, but it is a servant that now dominates the household, too powerful to fire, upon whom everyone is helplessly dependent. We tiptoe about and speculate upon his mood. What will be the effects of such-and-such an invention? How will it change our daily lives? We never ask, do we want this, is it worth it? (We did not ask ourselves, for example, if the trivial conveniences offered by the automobile could really offset the calamitous disruption and depersonalization of our lives that it brought about.) We simply say “You can't stop progress” and shuffle back inside.  

We pride ourselves on being a “democracy” but we are in fact slaves. We submit to an absolute ruler whose edicts and whims we never question. We watch him carefully, hang on his every word; for technology is a harsh and capricious king, demanding prompt and absolute obedience. We laugh at the Luddites (Nat Turners in the struggle for human parity with the machine) but they were the last human beings seriously to confront this issue. Since then we have passively surrendered to every degradation, every atrocity, every enslavement that our technological ingenuity has brought about. We laugh at the old lady who holds off the highway bulldozers with a shotgun, but we laugh because we are Uncle Toms. We try to outdo each other in singing the praises of the oppressor, although in fact the value of technology in terms of human satisfaction remains at best undemonstrated. For when evaluating its effects we always adopt the basic assumptions and perspective of technology itself, and never examine it in terms of the totality of human experience. We say this or that invention is valuable because it generates other inventions-because it is a means to some other means-not because it achieves an ultimate human end. We play down the “side effects” that so often become the main effects and completely negate any alleged benefits. The advantages of all technological “progress” will after all be totally outweighed the moment nuclear war breaks out (an event which, given the inadequacy of precautions and the number of fanatical fingers close to the trigger, is only a matter of time unless radical changes are made).

Let me make clear what I am not saying here. I do not believe in the noble savage and I am not advocating any brand of bucolic romanticism. I do not want to put an end to machines, I only want to remove them from their position of mastery, to restore human beings to a position of equality and initiative.