Once upon a time, women were forced to spend all their time burdened with housework. But then, to their rescue came technology. With the creation of vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and washing machines, technology liberated women and gave them more time to focus on what they really cared about. Except, it didn’t. It actually did the opposite.
As Ruth Cowan revealed in her book “More Work For Mother”, the amount of time women spend cleaning the house has remained the same since before the industrial revolution.
“How is that possible?”, you’re probably thinking.
“Didn’t technology make chores way more efficient and less time-consuming?”
And you’d be right. Since the beginning of civilisation, technology has allowed humans to do more with less. But an often forgotten fact is that while it does make work easier, technology creates new work by changing who does the work and raising the standards to which it is done.
The Curious Case Of Counterproductivity
The Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich coined the term counterproductivity to describe the phenomenon in which many technologies seem like they save time and money at first glance, savings which vanish as soon as a full cost-benefit analysis is done.
Take, for example, the automobile. Automobiles are undoubtedly more efficient than walking. While you walk at about 5 km/ h, cars can easily top speeds of 100km/h. Even if you passed a red light, your average speed would still be quite high. Or so you think.
If you include all the hours you work to buy the car, pay for insurance, pay for petrol, pay for maintenance, pay for parking tickets, as well as the time spent traveling and in traffic jams, Illich found that the average speed of an American Car was 6 km/h (3.7 mph). And that was in the 70s, when the USA had 40% fewer inhabitants.
While it does make work easier, technology creates new work by changing who does the work and raising the standards…