Every once in a while I come up with a science fictional idea, a wrinkle on reality that reflects a possible future. As I was brooding about topics for this week’s blog, it occurred to me that someone ought to come up with an app to take over the process of blogging–all the way from generating topics to editing and polishing, including writing the blog itself. A roblogger. A drone blogger. An autoblogger. The part that composed the actual blog would be a bit like the thousands of monkeys chained to typewriters until they composed Hamlet, or Arthur C. Clarke’s antique computers that recited the nine billion names of god so the universe could come to an end. That part would require a lot of memory. The rest, though, would be duck soup–a genisap, an editap, and a copap. And, of course, a pubap. Truly, a labor-saving device.
The golden age of science fiction was much taken up with labor-saving devices because that was what engineers and other technicians brooded about in the mundane world outside science fiction. I don’t remember ever reading an article in the news magazines of that era that presented a negative view of labor-saving, but I do remember wondering what all that displaced labor would do for a living when the devices that eliminated labor were in place. When I got around to studying British history, I came across a name for people who voiced that concern–Luddites. Maybe I was an incipient Luddite. Horrors.
In my lifetime, as a consequence of labor-saving devices, our society shifted from being an agricultural labor-market to resting on the uncertain foundations of manufacturing. Now it teeters between manufacturing and “service.” When I taught introductory history at a community college, we used to list what was necessary for cookery, basic household work. A sharp stick and a fire. A pot, the students would say. I pointed out that you could dig a pit, fill it with water, and toss red-hot stones into it. You didn’t need a pot.
Nowadays the kitchen is full of labor-saving devices that eliminate, what, the cook? Not exactly. The cook’s close attention? The stove (four burners and an oven) eliminates the need for an open fire of buffalo chips (or wood or coal or peat). If the stove fails, an electric skillet, a micro-wave, and a slow-cooker provide backup. The sharpened stick gives way to a broiler, roasting pans, a deep-fat fryer, cookie sheets, pie and cake pans, a Dutch oven, and a raft of electrically specialized tools like toasters, waffle and coffee makers, rice cookers, and sandwich grills. Replacing the pit and hot stones, the stove burners heat pots and pans with and without lids. And those are just some of the cooking clutter. I have not yet mentioned the pitchers and cups for liquids and the crockery on and in which the food is served (replacing a large leaf or a bread trencher) and the tools (chop sticks or cutlery) that replace bare fingers. Ah, I forgot–knives (I need six for cutting, paring, and slicing) and serving spoons, slotted and unslotted, strainers, graters, spatulas, egg slicers, apple corers, garlic presses, cherry stoners, and nut crackers. Mandolines.
How generous of the manufacturers to supply me with all these objects in exchange for quite reasonable amounts of cash. Do they save me labor? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t have a cook, and I don’t know anyone who does. In the nineteenth century, most houses the size of the one I live in would have had, at the very least, a resident cook and a housemaid, so that must be the labor all those devices saved. Indeed, this house has a bedroom for the cook right off the kitchen. Consider this–the plots of Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey don’t make sense for a series set later than World War II. Except for nannies, people no longer consider a career in service, nor does “service” mean what it used to mean.
The automatic blogging app I theorized in the first paragraph would not be replacing labor in the sense that cookery is labor. Nevertheless, blogging is a complex, time-absorbing activity, thoroughly exhausting, especially for someone who has other writing waiting to be done. Clearly an autoblogger is a desirable labor-saver and ought to be created as soon as possible. I can’t do it but somebody out there surely can. Maybe somebody has.
While I was plugging away at this, my spouse googled “autoblogger.” There is one. We held our breath as it loaded. What if …
Unfortunately, the extant autoblogger is closer to Car Talk than to the text generator I envisaged. Clearly my kind of autoblogger will have to have another name. Verblogisty? Blogosity? You name it, I’ll buy it.