In In The Absence Of The Sacred (1991), Jerry Mander wrote:
“The corporation is not as subject to human control as most people believe it is; rather, it is an autonomous technical structure that behaves by a system of logic uniquely well suited to its primary function: to give birth and impetus to profitable new technological forms, and to spread techno-logic around the globe.
We usually become aware of corporate behavior only when a flagrant transgression is reported in the news: the dumping of toxic wastes, the releasing of pollutants, the suppression of research regarding health effects of various products, the tragic mechanical breakdowns such as at Three Mile Island, in Bhopal, or in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Sometimes we become concerned about a large corporation closing a factory, putting 5,000 people out of work, and moving to another country.
Even when we hear such news, our tendency is to respond as if the behaviors described stem from the people within the corporate structure – people who are irresponsible, dishonest, greedy, or overly ambitious. Or else we attribute the problem to the moral decline of the times we live in, or to the failure of the regulatory process.”
to which Jay Hanson responded:
“Thus, a large corporation may be seen as a man-made life form, a beast with a will of its own: an “economic cyborg.” Visualize a powerful creature that has humans for talons, a bank vault for a heart, computers for eyes and an insatiable need for PROFIT. The economic cyborg – a “terminator” – a machine in human disguise!”
Corporations, social enterprises and public institutions all suffer from this problem – they’re cyborgs and for the most part, the human elements within them don’t realise that that’s the case – that’s why using social media with them sometimes feels like talking to a replicant or a terminator.
The “human talons” I met at #localgovcamp on Saturday aren’t attached to an insatiable need for profit, but all organisations of this form have some primary function that at some point steals the humanity of those who work for it. And so discussions about conversing with them in non-mechanical ways will always revert to “Yes, but how can we make this more acceptable to our machine-masters?”