091 Paris Marx and the future of cars


We caught up with Paris Marx, a technology writer. They have written frequently in, amongst others, NBC News, CBC News, Jacobin, Tribune, and OneZero, and speak internationally on the future of transport. They are also a PhD student at the University of Auckland and the host of the critical technology podcast ‘Tech Won’t Save Us‘. They are based in Newfoundland, Canada.

Their book, “Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation” addresses the future of transportation and the questionable way Silicon Valley is “solving” this issue. We also talked about the quality tech journalism, the consumer’s optimism in the tech economy and the non-solution of e-cars.

Finally, we also address the issue of policy shaping, the need to change the discourse around technology and the role of the journalists in this field.

Transcript of the episode:

Expand the transcript

00:00:06 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Welcome everybody. It’s the 28th of June 2023, but you’re listening to this episode of Citizen D podcast on the 15th of September same year. With us today is Paris Marx, tech critic and author of the book “Road to nowhere: What Silicon Valley gets wrong about the future of transportation”. He’s also the host of the podcast “Tech won’t save us”. Welcome, Paris.

00:00:32 Paris Marx
Thanks so much for having me.

00:00:34 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Let’s start with your book. You talk about transportation, you talk about Elon Musk, you talk about the way Silicon Valley is trying to reshape the future of transport. And I find it interesting or fascinating for two reasons. One is that in the book you go in depth not just about the current state of the transportation industry and the situation going on in Silicon Valley, but you also start with the, let’s call it the history of transport. When the first cars came into power, so to say.

And basically, you talk about the hijacking of the public sphere of the public streets that were back then divided between different, let’s call them interest groups like the pedestrians, salesman and so forth and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the following question. Can history tell us something about the current state of the future in the area of transportation?

00:01:54 Paris Marx

Oh, absolutely. You know, there was one way to approach the book where, you know, all I did was look at what happened in the past 10 or 15 years. As the tech industry kind of, you know, founded Uber and released ideas for self-driving cars and hyper-loops and all these sorts of things and just assessed why they were not going to address the problems in our transportation system.

But I thought, you know, one of the things that Silicon Valley does really well is it makes sure that people don’t think about the history, that they only think about the present, and in particular the future and they don’t look back at what has happened in the past, but part of the reason that these tech billionaires and these tech companies are putting out ideas for transportation in the present is that there are a lot of problems in our transportation system that come of our over reliance on cars.

I would argue, you know, that is a big piece of this and so it felt wrong then to write a book about transportation and about what the tech industry is proposing for transportation and not to go back to, you know, the kind of moment when the car emerges to look at the ideas around the car then and how that played out, how the car became such a dominant part of the transportation system.

Because I think that that helps to kind of demystify the system that we have right now in terms of transportation. But also to question whether you know ideas for transportation that are really based around the car, as many of Silicon Valley’s ideas are, are really going to solve these fundamental problems like, you know, the amount of people who are injured or die because of cars. The amount of time that people spend stuck in traffic, the emissions that come from cars, you know, and all of these other questions that come along with it.

So those are real issues that we do need to address, but is it going to be addressed by, you know, some new technology released by some, some American tech companies, or do we need to look at a much deeper level and I think that going into the history tells us that, yes, like we need to, we need to look much deeper than just the technology that we’re flying on.

00:04:00 Domen Savič / Citizen D
And if you had to answer a question about where did things start to go wrong in, in the past for, let’s say the general area of of transportation, what was key moment or what were some of the key moments that got us where we are today with cars; not enough roads, not enough infrastructure to support the transportation system that is currently in place?

00:04:35 Paris Marx
Hmm, it’s a difficult question because I would say it happens over a long period of time, right? But and obviously I should also say that, I look in particular at the American context in particular because you know that you know Silicon Valley is rooted in the United States, the United States has this really long history of car dependency and kind of, you know, pushing the car as this object of of freedom and modernity and things like that.

So I look a bit less at the European context in the book, though, I know that obviously the car has been very influential in shaping European transportation as well. They’re probably not to the same degree as what happened in North America, where I am based.

And so I think that for me there are, you know, a number of moments that we could point to as very important moments in this kind of transformation of the transport system.

You know, we can go back to when the car starts to emerge in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and, you know, I think a lot of people forget that in that moment, it wasn’t obvious that the car we were going to use to get around was going to be one within internal combustion engine that was reliant on fossil fuels.

But at the time, you know, there were also electric cars in that moment and for a while it looked like they might actually be kind of, you know, the form of vehicle that became mass transportation instead of the internal combustion engine and there were even cars at the time that were powered by steam power, because that was, you know, a very common form of kind of, you know, mobility or creating energy or whatnot in that. So I think that that’s one important moment.

But then I think if you kind of fast forward a few decades as the car starts to become more common in you know North American cities, but European cities as well, what you really see is kind of a conflict, right? On one hand, you have cars that are becoming more common on the street, but you also have a street car that is designed around a different way of getting around the city, right?

It’s designed around people who are walking, who are taking bicycles, who are taking the streetcar, who are taking horse drawn carriages, all things that move relatively slowly within the streets of cities. And then you’re moving toward the car, which slowly kind of gets faster, can kind of maneuver more in a more agile way, I guess. And what happens is that more people start to die and be injured because of automobiles, right? In particular, children and young women.

And that creates a backlash in cities in the United States through the 1910s to about the 30S and so in that moment the question is really, you know, are we going to allow this car, this, this form of transportation, to become entrenched in the city or are we going to take regulatory measures to restrict how fast cars can go to restrict, you know, how much space they can take up to restrict, you know, how much they can actually use the roads when there’s all these other people who are trying to use them as well, and what we ultimately see as, as you said, is that there’s a kind of wide range of interest groups that see that they are going to profit from the car becoming a form of mass transportation.

And so they all kind of work together to make sure that regulations don’t stifle the growth of the automobile and that ultimately, in the decades that follow, whether it’s through the 1930s as the US government is trying to kind of, you know, take programs to recover from the Great Depression or in the post war period in particular.

After the late 1940s, into the 1950s and 60s, as there’s a big kind of infrastructure building program. And in that moment, you know, the push is really to build a lot of suburban housing, a lot of highway infrastructure or a lot of road infrastructure. And at the same time, there’s not the kind of investment put into the rail network or into public transportation or things like that. The focus is really to get people to drive cars, to use cars and to reshape the transportation system around that.

00:08:34 Domen Savič / Citizen D
And jumping ahead into, let’s say, today’s atmosphere, where are we regarding the current, let’s say state of the future of transportation, the self-driving cars, the electric cars… Things you described happening in the past I could draw some parallels with same or similar things happening  in the present as well, right.

So you have self-driving cars driving over people and pedestrians, you have accidents, you have projects that are trying to overcome different different snags in the transportation system and failing horrifically in some examples. Would you say that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating or that we, the industry, the policymakers learned something from looking back or trying to address the current situation?

00:09:43 Paris Marx
It’s tough to say, and again I wouldn’t want to kind of generalize because I don’t know exactly what regulators across different European countries have done, but I would say that in general, while lessons were learned for a while and there were actions taken for a number of decades in order to kind of you know further restrict cars to make sure that environmental kind of expectations, you know, they’re less smog coming from cars and things like that were taken, I think that for a while we have not done enough to kind of keep up with the impact that cars have had on cities and to try to actually deal with the problems that we face.

And again, this is not a universal thing. Some cities and countries have been better than others, but especially in the kind of North American context, the car really kind of took over, right? And so what we’re seeing now and what we’ve I guess been seeing in the past about 15 years is the tech industry did recognize that there was a serious problem in our transportation system again.

With, you know, people dying on the roads with the amount of people stuck in traffic for long periods of time, with the emissions coming from cars with the high cost of car ownership, all these other sorts of problems, right, and they said instead of having a political conversation around how we address these problems that have arisen from kind of decades of making policy decisions to encourage people to drive.

Let’s not have that conversation and instead let’s just try to come up with a new technology that is going to solve these problems, right? So ride hailing services, electric cars, self driving cars, all this kind of stuff. And you know, obviously services like Uber are available, you know, ride hailing services, they have actually had an impact on cities. But what we see in that case is that the company promised that was going to kind of have these amazing beneficial effects on cities, but the studies that were done in North America find that they actually made traffic worse. They took people away from public transit systems, they didn’t have the beneficial effects that we expected to see or at least that the company led us to believe that we would see.

Again, the self driving cars they were supposed to arrive years ago, you know, all these companies kept saying that they were just a few years away in the 2010s and we still see they’re just being tested in some cities right now but they certainly haven’t taken over transportation, as the companies told us they were going to. Electric cars – I would say that is one that is really starting to take root right now and I think that that is an important piece of, you know, the transition toward reducing emissions from transportation, moving over to electric vehicles.

But my concern there is that we’re not reckoning with how the electric vehicle also still has a very significant environmental footprint and I feel like a lot of our governments are moving in the direction of saying, you know, if we want to address the emissions that come from transportation, all we need to do is adopt electric cars and not do anything else.

And I think that that is a real missed opportunity kind of going back to what you were saying, the comparisons to the past where there is a real push to get us to buy cars and to ensure that we’re driving a lot and that was very profitable for a number of commercial interests from automakers to oil company to developers who are building suburban infrastructure and road infrastructure and things like that.

And what we see now is very much a push to say, OK, there are different paths that we can take here. If we want to address these problems and in particular the issue of contributing to climate change. But you know, a lot of governments and a lot of industries, of course, seem to be pushing us toward the direction of electric car power, which means more automotive manufacturing, which means more mining in order to get the minerals that are needed for batteries and of course more battery production.

Instead of saying maybe instead of trying to just get everyone to buy an electric car, we should be investing a lot more in public transportation, in cycling infrastructure and things like that are not only, you know, more sustainable, but you know will help to address some of those other problems like traffic, like high cost of car ownership like vehicle deaths and things like.

00:13:57 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Are there in your opinion any particular reasons why the political discourse or the political conversation about you know, what do we do about cars isn’t happening on a scale that maybe you and I would want it to happen, right? So you just said, you know, electric cars aren’t built for scalability, so to say, so you have the industry on one side that’s very good with lobbying efforts with pushing against the decision makers proposals that don’t include them.

On the other hand, you have the problems you already mentioned about ecology, about batteries, about building parts for electric cars. So why do you think that political political discussion is still not happening despite everything that we’ve been through and despite everything that’s happening in the current moment?

00:15:03 Paris Marx
I think that there are a couple of reasons for that. I think one is that our governments over the past number of decades have really lost any kind of vision for the future and what a better future could look like. And you know, I think that’s in part because of, you know, the neoliberal turn that politics have taken and largely, you know, more concretely, the idea that the government and the public sector should be doing less in society and we should be leaving more of the kind of decisions and, you know, kind of handling important infrastructures and services to the private sector.

And I think that has meant that, you know, our governments have kind of taken a step back of thinking what a better life actually looks like for the people who live in our communities and our cities and our countries, and instead has has just been trying to kind of encourage private industry to come up with ways to kind of generate more economic activity.

And I don’t think that is always a positive thing are always going to generate kind of widespread benefits beyond, you know, benefits for those companies and the executives that at them, and I think that the other piece of that is that when you look at the potential paths forward for transportation, right, if we were to kind of put two general paths in front of us and say one is where you know a lot of us drive electric cars, we don’t really change the kind of dependence on cars that exist in our societies right now and so we basically need to replace all the fossil fuel vehicles with electric cars and then if we look at another future where we say, OK, instead of having so many people driving cars, we put a much greater focus on investing in public transportation, in rail infrastructure, in cycling infrastructure so that people don’t need to own as many cars just in society in general.

So if we look at those two different futures, we can very clearly see that the one where more people are driving electric cars is the one where there is a more obvious kind of economic activity taking place, right? You need to be building more cars which take more labor power in order to produce, you need to be mining a lot to build the big batteries that are gonna go into those vehicles.

And of course, you need to produce the batteries as well, and then you’ll need to keep charging those vehicles, you’ll need to keep paying insurance on those vehicles, you’ll need to get them maintained very frequently – you know there’s a whole load of other costs that come along with it.

And just because of the way that our economies are set up right now, that looks a lot more attractive kind of on the on the balance sheet or on the spreadsheet or in the GDP figures than something where we kind of reduce the amount of transactions that need to be taken for transportation and just invest in collective public solutions instead.

00:17:48 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So is there a difference between the, let’s say, the scalability of car infrastructure in the US in let’s say the developed countries and in countries that are that are, let’s say going the same way like I’ll give you an example.

In Slovenia the concept of the six lane motorway hasn’t really taken off yet. So we are now having these discussions in the public sphere about building and expanding the motorways. The people who are opposing this expansion are using the arguments that are also in your book, but that are also present in the global sector that is more mindful about the environment and about the ecology, while the people who are for the six lane expansions are saying “Yes, yes, we know you know all about the futility of wider roads in developed countries” and they’re naming US and yeah, I guess maybe even Germany, “But you know, our case will be different because… Something,” so how would you say or how would you counter that that narrative in in if you were engaged in let’s say the, the political discussion about 6 lane motorways in in Slovenia or countries that that are still, you know, deciding to take the first step towards the future that we already know is not effectively solving anything.

00:19:45 Paris Marx
Yeah, it’s a good question and I would want to preface my answer by saying that obviously I don’t know the specifics of the situation in Slovenia, so I can’t comment specifically, right, but I would say this obviously questions of infrastructure and investment in that way, public investment, they kind of do help to determine the way that people move and the way that they transport themselves and goods and things like that into the future.

One thing that I see in the example from where I am in in North America is that we used to have, you know, pretty decent train infrastructure in the province that I live you know, it wasn’t perfect or anything like that, but at least we had it and then when they built the Trans Canada Highway network, that encouraged a lot more people to start driving instead of taking the train and the train then kind of, you know, fell into disarray, into disrepair.

It didn’t get the investment and, you know, the ridership that it had previously and eventually the train in my province was actually ripped up and we don’t have a train anymore and the only option is the highway. Right?

And so I just give that example to say that I think that there’s an important concept in transportation that really shapes a lot of discussions around these things called induced demand, and this is the question that, you know, if you make investments in a particular form of transportation infrastructure, that is going to encourage more people to get around in that way.

So if you’re building more six lane motorways that’s going to encourage more people to drive because the infrastructure is getting better for that form of transportation and I think ultimately in this moment we have kind of a debate or a question around what should that future of transportation look like and should cities and countries be kind of doubling down on automotive infrastructure in this moment, or should they be making other decisions to, you know, invest in the rail network, invest in public transportation and things like that?

So I wouldn’t want to specifically, you know, make a direct comment on the Slovenian situation, because I don’t know it, but again, when I look at other countries that have been developing in recent years, like you know, say, say, China, for example, in the past number of decades, you know, they have built out a fantastic high speed rail network around their country, but a lot of their cities are also kind of flooded with cars and transportation infrastructure and they have these massive highways as well.

So they’ve kind of gone in both directions, but they’re still a very strong automotive dependence and I think part of that comes from how the automobile and the car were long kind of positioned as and kind of framed as in, in marketing and advertising and things like that as a symbol of modernity, right.

And if a country didn’t move in the direction of adopting cars and getting its people to buy automobiles then they weren’t actually kind of developing properly or kind of moving up the chain of element and I think that that’s really a flawed notion and something that, especially in the 21st century, that we really need to be challenging and reconsidering to think, you know, what is the form of transportation or what is kind of the network of transportation that will actually make life better for people instead of just kind of, you know, assuming that we need to go in a particular direction because, you know, kind of the United States did it first, then we’re all looking to them as an example and we need to follow along and blah, blah blah, right. And I don’t think that that has worked out particularly well for places that have followed that example.

00:23:30 Domen Savič / Citizen D

And I wanna hear your thoughts on another issue that is related to this.

So you already mentioned the difference or the complementary roles of the public and of the private sector in this regard and I’m assuming that the transportation or the area of transportation is mostly relying on the work done primarily by the public sector, by, you know, infrastructure building.

But then you have also mentioned in your book the case of Elon Musk’s the case of hyper-loop. Is this a strong enough signal that the private sector is, let’s say, capable of of, you know, building things from the ground up, almost literally in a way that you know the private sector can decide: “OK, we’ll build an alternate transportation system from the ground up, building new effective roads”, so to say and other things that are necessary for the development of this area or is this just like a like a media trick or something that that is there to sort of entertain people, but doesn’t have any real impact or even intent to sort of changed and influence the way we we move around.

00:25:03 Paris Marx
Yeah, it’s a complex question because I think if you look historically, you would certainly see that there can be a role for the private sector in transportation. You know if we look at the North American example, the building of railways, the building of streetcars and things like that were initially done by the private sector, but of course heavily subsidized by the public sector, of course, to make that happen.

If we look at kind of what is happening in this moment and if we look at the ideas that are coming from the tech industry, as you say, you know they are proposing or they are kind of making us believe that these private companies from Silicon Valley or you know at least kind of following the playbook or the mindset that comes from Silicon Valley are going to up in the transportation system and fix a lot of the problems, whether it’s with Hyperloop or self driving cars or what have you, but I think that what we see time and again is that these companies love to come out and make huge promises about what their ideas and their technologies are going to mean for society and then a few years later, once you actually look at what they’ve achieved, you can see that they very rarely are able to actually follow through on all the promises that are being made.

And for me, what that says is that they’re not actually solving problems in the transportation system they’re just distracting from real solutions that could address those problems and are ensuring that they stick around and that we remain kind of dependent on cars, or that our transportation system remains stagnant for much longer than it has to be and that ultimately, if we’re going to solve these problems, you know, we need the public sector to be making these investments in public transportation and cycling infrastructure, in rail infrastructure to ensure that people have other options that are not just the car in order to get around, and that those options are kind of, you know, safe, reliable, affordable, that people can actually imagine taking them.

I’m sure many of your listeners will know that this can be a serious problem in North America in particular where we’ve built so much for the automobile in the past number of decades, I guess that we haven’t really kept up and public transportation is not that great of an option for people.

So that is really what stands out when I think of what the tech industry has done, it’s not to revolutionize transportation, it’s not to solve real problems in transportation, it’s to distract from real solutions that we already have and that we could be implementing right now because instead they don’t really want to see the system change, but they think that if it is going to change, they would rather it be done by them so that they can start getting a cut of the profit.

You know, we were talking about how all these various corporate interests have a lot of, you know, benefit immensely from the dependence on automobiles, whether it’s because people buy cars or buy gas or pay for maintenance or what have you and the tech industry doesn’t really want to change that.

They just want to ensure that their business models are now integrated too, so that they can get a bunch of data from your car so that they can start putting subscription services in your car and things like that. It’s not really going to change very much.

00:28:28 Domen Savič / Citizen D
And you’ve just mentioned it, so another reason for the current situation is also the media representation of let’s say the tech industry, and since you you host the podcast, with the title “tech won’t save us” – why would you say the journalists, the tech journalists in in general, on the global scale are always quick to or are still quick to fall for the Silicon Valley trick in in parroting their reason for their revolutionary future.

We’re seeing it come time after time in many different examples and just recently, there’s been a bit of a push-back from particular tech journalists trying to be more critical about Silicon Valley’s vision of the future. So, why would you say it took the journalist sector so long to sort of gain this opposition stance towards the Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley tech industry.

00:29:49 Paris Marx

Yeah, it’s a really good question and I think I would say, you know, there has always been kind of critical reporting on the tech industry, the problem is that for a long time it didn’t get much attention right?

The mainstream publications and the tech publications were very overwhelmingly positive, and we have started to see that shift a little bit in the past few years, but it’s still just, you know, kind of overwhelmingly positive and repeating the types of stories and narratives that the tech industry would like.

So I think that when you look at why that is, I think there are a number of reasons for it. I think on one hand, you know the people who get into reporting on technology are usually people who are interested in and like technology, right? And so there’s a bit of a built-in bias that comes with that where they do really want to see those companies succeed to follow through on the promises that they’re making.

And so I think that helps to explain some of the reporting that was done on the tech industry in the past, but I think that the tech industry is also one that depends a lot on access, you know. So you know, if you think about getting access to like a Big Apple event where they’re going to unveil the new products and then you get to try them out or something like that, a lot of these companies do ensure that if you have written critically about them, you won’t get access to those opportunities, right? And so there is kind of an inbuilt incentive not to be too critical toward the companies or you’ll lose access to getting interviews with executives, getting access to those kinds of media events and product unveilings and things like that. So that is another reason for it.

And I think that we need to consider that the media industry has faced a lot of challenges over the past couple of decades as the revenue model and the advertising business model that they’ve been built on has been seriously threatened, and so we’ve seen a lot of cuts to media, you know, publications closing down, journalists being laid off and just an expectation that at least for some journalists, that they need to be kind of producing more stories, which means that they have less time to actually look into issues and deeply investigate them.

So it’s much easier than just to say, OK, this tech industry kind of put out a press release about, you know, these various new products that are that are coming out, so let’s kind of, you know, just write stories based on these press releases or product announcements or whatever and we can just release that, right. And there’s not a lot of knowledge about the history of these industries, the history of technology, and all these sorts of things to try to put in a bit more of a critical perspective.

And you know, as you say, I think that we are starting to see that change a bit, but unfortunately a lot of the stuff is still really positive, especially when there’s a lot of hype about something new like we see right now with AI or we saw in the past few years with crypto and again that I think that’s in part because the journalists who cover the, the, the industry are scared to be wrong, are scared to say that a certain new idea or new product isn’t gonna go anywhere because it’s ridiculous and you know shouldn’t be adopted and because if they get it wrong then it might look bad on them, right? But if they hype it up and say that it might be the future, and then it is not the future.

Well, I guess that doesn’t look so bad or they don’t think so at least.

00:33:11 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So another question related to your part is what are some I should say, editorial guidelines when you’re trying to decide on the topic or when you’re deciding on the coverage of a particular topic, what do you look for? What do you pay attention to?

00:33:29 Paris Marx
Yeah, it’s a good question and I always try to present people with a critical perspective that they might not get elsewhere and so on the show, what I do is every week I have a different kind of guest and an expert on the show in order to talk about a different aspect of the tech industry and the goal, of course, as we were talking about with kind of the general positive nature of tech coverage is to say, you know, you get that those positive stories from anywhere else.

But you know, the podcast is really where you come to for a critical perspective on this industry to maybe get you to think about the companies in it and the technologies in, in a bit of a different way. And so for me, when I think about what to cover on the show and what to talk about, you know, part of it is motivated by my own interests You know, the stories that I think are interesting, the topics I think are interesting and then I want to have a conversation about and then the other bit of it is is also you know just what is kind of popular at the moment, what are people talking about, what maybe needs a bit of a pushback?

So if there’s something happening in the news like recently with the Apple Vision Pro headset, we did an episode on that because it felt like it was something that was necessary to discuss, but also you know, we’re in this kind of broader hype cycle at the moment about generative AI technologies like ChatGPT and so I’ve done a number of episodes since the beginning of the year, kind of giving people a bit of a critical perspective on those technologies and on this kind of moment that we’re in with all the hype around AI, you know, to to try to ensure that people have a bit of a different perspective and idea on that and why it’s being driven right now rather than, you know, just kind of buying into what the CEO’s will want us to believe about AI.

So I guess those are a few of the different things that kind of shape how we think about it.

00:35:27 Domen Savič / Citizen D
It’s very interesting to compare notes or to try to think because we on this show try to do something similar for exactly the same reasons. Try to offer some type of counter narrative or maybe even open up a discussion on certain issues that are very streamlined, if you’re reading the local general press, but since we’re coming to the end of the episode, I just have one more topic to discuss with you.

So we usually give a few advice to the listeners in terms of what are some of the counter tactics on the personal, on political on, on regional, on yeah, family level, even when we’re talking or when we’re discussing, let’s say, the future of transport and the current developments in the field, is there something that that can be done from from a personal perspective or is everything based just on hopefully good political decision making that that won’t take too many pages out of the out of the Silicon Valley playbook?

00:36:36 Paris Marx
Yeah, I definitely think that there are things that people can do as individuals, you know, kind of, especially when that means kind of doing things collectively as well, right. So I think that as individuals, we need to be able to look at these technologies and what’s coming from the tech industry and to really question these narratives. Makes sense, right?

And I think ultimately that means when we see these stories about technology in the industry, we ask who really benefits if this is kind of the future that is being sold to us. If this is the future that actually arrives, and I think that very clearly, if we look below the PR and the marketing that comes from these things we can see that, you know, in many cases these futures are not actually going to be beneficial for the vast majority of regular people in society and are just going to keep kind of the wealth flowing up to these billionaires and whatnot, I also find it’s great to kind of just have conversations with people that I know about technology.

You know, if you say that your listeners are a bit more critical on these things and you know maybe have a bit of a different perspective than what would just be regularly in the media you know my family members and my friends are always asking me about technology.

When they see things and what my opinion is on it, because they know that I have a bit of a different opinion and so we always discuss those things and you know, I find that those conversations are really fruitful, right.

And I think that the final thing I would say on that point is that, you know, we can’t just rely on the political system in order to kind of make these changes while we would certainly want to see the political system get more critical, that does actually require the public to also be more critical as well, right?

And to have kind of an active power or collective voice to be able to push the government to do something like that. But I think as well we also have the power to push back against these technologies kind of on an individual level when we’re collectively criticizing them. And I think that, you know, I point to examples like the Metaverse for example, where this was supposed to be the big future of meta and Facebook and people just thought it was a joke, and now you don’t hear very much about it. Cryptocurrency was another one that was very huge for, you know, about a year and a half and while there was a lot of hype and excitement about it, there was also a lot of very critical people who were saying, you know, don’t buy into this fantasy that we’re being sold and then we can see what happened, where the prices of these crypto tokens really collapsed and a lot of people lost a lot of money as a result.

And even if you go back to the kind of early 2010s you can see Google Glass, you know, the last time Google tried to sell us a bunch of smart glasses and people immediately kind of revolted against that, and that product was shut down and just becomes, became something used in enterprise spaces but not available to the regular public.

So I think that there are many different ways that we can push back on the tech industry and its visions for the future.

00:39:39 Domen Savič / Citizen D

I just have one more question, I was half laughing when you were talking about your family asking you for advice. Do you ever give them advice from my own experience as well, is there a situation or was there a situation when you were positive about tech and the tech industry, or are you always, like me saying: “You don’t need that”, “This is crap,”… you know, you’re probably better off without it, no matter what the topic of the discussion really is?

00:40:22 Paris Marx
It’s an interesting question, right, because I would say I used to be very positive about tech and very excited about tech. You know, I used to be an Apple fanboy back in the day. I was the kind of person who always got really excited about new Apple products and, you know, especially in, you know, the first decade of the 2000s. In the early 2010s I kind of believed a lot of stuff that came out of the tech industry and was very excited about what it might mean.

And I think that a lot of that started to change in the early to mid 2010s when I really started to see on one hand the impact of the share economy and services like Uber and food delivery services and things like that and what they were doing to to workers by ensuring that they didn’t have labor rights and that their their pay was being pushed down and things like that, but the other piece of it was also, you know, your listeners might remember in the mid 2010s there was a big kind of hype around automation and AI and the idea that robots were going to take all our jobs and there were gonna be no more truck drivers or taxi drivers and robots, we’re going to make our coffees and all this kind of stuff, right? And people were wondering what jobs we were gonna do as humans and that really didn’t happen, right? We didn’t have that elimination of work that all these people in the tech industry were saying that we were gonna have and all these people in the media were saying we were going to have and what actually happened was once again, these technologies were implemented in such a way as to reduce the power of workers and to increase the power.

And so that was a really kind of eye opening moment for me because I did actually believe that, you know, a bunch of jobs were going to be automated and I was concerned about what that was going to mean for people and then when I saw that didn’t happen, that made me look at these technologies and the industry itself in a very different way and to really think a lot more critically about what they were proposing and why they constantly have these different cycles where they’re pushing new technologies at us.

And it’s not because they are really looking to transform society and are really looking to roll out these technologies to make everyone’s life better. It’s just because it benefits them from a financial perspective every few years, have a new, have a new technology that gets hyped up, which means a bunch of companies see their valuations rise which means that the venture capitalists who invested in them can cash out and make money back on their investments. And then it all collapses and then you know a new cycle starts again. And this is just how the industry works and so that was a really kind of eye opening moment for me.

00:43:06 Domen Savič / Citizen D
A perfect a perfect ending to to this episode. Thank you so much, Paris, for the book and for your work, but also for sitting down with us and having this discussion. This was Citizen D podcast, we’ll see each other next month. Best of luck going forward and talk to you soon.

00:43:28 Paris Marx
Thanks so much.

Citizen D advice:

  • Think of a car as a problem, not as a solution
  • Reevaluate the role of tech journalism in a society
  • Study the past to understand the future

More information:

  • Science for the People: Vehicles of Extraction – article
  • How Corporate America Created Car Culture—And What We Can Do To Change It – article
  • The Internet Is Broken. How Do We Fix It? – essay
  • You’ve Got Luddites All Wrong – article


About the podcast:

Podcast Citizen D gives you a reason for being a productive citizen. Citizen D features talks by experts in different fields focusing on the pressing topics in the field of information society and media. We can do it. Full steam ahead!

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