Last night at Colgate University, we brought in a speaker for our Global Engagements program. His name is David Crawford, and he is an anthropologist at Fairfield University. It was a really terrific talk–he works in rural Morocco–about experience of globalization in urban and rural places. During the talk, he spoke of hearing an Amish farmer speak at the Yale Cooperative Ag School. At the beginning of the talk, the farmer told the audience that his community had no tractors, but they did have a washing machine. Dr. Crawford joked that this distracted him through the entire talk: why a washer and not a tractor? The answer: Tractors make it possible for one man to use too much land, and to be able to work the land by himself. Horses and plows put each community member into a place where he has to ask for help and to recognize his communal relations. The amount of land that can be tilled is less, therefore leaving more for future generations. All the hay harvested in day needs to be collected before it gets wet. This is more than one man and one horse can do so he has to ask for help from the neighbors.
This is a much different idea of technology: this Amish community deliberately integrates their choices about what is important into the technology they choose to employ. They have washers because laundry tends to be a solitary chore that, if done without a washing machine, is very time consuming and laborious. The technology here frees up the women to pursue other chores and spend more time with their families and the wider community (I forgo a discussion of gender politics here, though I am sure one is warranted).
These choices deliberately bind the community together for the future.
This was one of those talks that get the gears turning in your own head. For my work, it directly ties into how we think about the technologies of the self and our bodies. I asked in the last post: What kind of body politic is needed if we understand our bodies as “walking ecosystems,” “planets,” “superorganisms,” or “human-bacterial-hybrids?” What choices about technology can we make that would bind us together rather than create “individuals”? This may be radically different than the state form we currently have…
What about the technology in your life? What choices are integrated into your life because of the technology you use?