Does our society really want people any more? As I listen to the news of changes to the London Underground, which mean fewer people are wanted because there are more machines, I gloomily ponder how many more of our enterprises and institutions have gone the same way...
- The steel industry where I used to live in Sheffield still makes loads of steel - but it doesn't want more than a few people to press buttons. The rest have all gone.
- Your bank has put in cash machines because it doesn't want to pay people to help you organise your money.
- Your supermarket has put in automated tills so that they don't have to employ people either.
- Any firm you ring about anything has endless automated messages - so they don't have to have people to talk to you. Annoying, isn't it?
- Robots are apparently being brought in in Japan to care for old people - so even the elderly will have machines instead of the hated humans to care for them.
- huge numbers of lower middle class workers, who used to do all the adding up and copying and filing by hand, have been replaced by computers.
- Driverless trains... online goods... online sex (whatever that is - I'm a vicar after all)... algorithmic stock trading... virtual friendships...
Somehow in my dull brain I still want to cling to the absurd and dated idea that "society" means what happens when people get together. But we seem to be creating a society which doesn't need people. How can that possibly work? I mean even in economic terms, when nobody's got any work because it's all done by machines, how will anyone earn anything? For I have no doubt that even human machine minders will be replaced by machines that can mind other machines better than we can. What will the economy mean when it's just lots of computers firing strings of digits at each other?
And who will this brave new society actually function for? Presumably only an ultra rich super class who design or make or own and hire out the machines and the stuff they run on will actually have money. But in the end if nobody but them earns anything, there'll be nobody to buy the goods and services their machines provide, will there? Then they too must go bust, surely? Surely even they will then be forced to admit that there is some mutuality in the world? When there is no-one left to buy then there can be no sellers either - can there?
As you can tell, I just don't get it. But at least we can still form a society, through choice even if not through economics much longer. We can privately and personally seek out a human interaction which we can no longer find in the factory or office. One of the great things about coming to Horton and Wraysbury is the enormous extent to which people set enthusiastically about this through all the various clubs and societies that we have here.
Christmas is coming up. It's a reminder that people matter. God values humanity so much that He came and shared in it. The divine life was incarnated in human laughter and tears, human work and play, human friendship and struggle. So let's not have a mechanical world, pitiless and pointless. That world is both godless and inhumane. Let's choose people instead.
Colin x x