The ‘Tesla Troubles’ Phenomenon: How Technology Contributes to Our Unhappiness

A few years ago, our apartment building decided to replace all of its elevators. Situated in lower Manhattan, our 17-story building covering an entire city block faced issues with the three existing elevators not efficiently moving people.

The solution was to introduce new elevators that utilized algorithms for better performance. The installation process was drawn out, taking place during the early stages of the pandemic, and was eventually completed (I believe it was in 2021, although pandemic time tends to blend together). Strangely, the new elevators turned out to be worse in their performance. On occasions, they would pass by even after being called, and they seemed to create new congestion points within the building. Quite often, I found myself choosing the stairs to reach the 10th floor instead of relying on these elevators. I’ve labeled this occurrence as the “Tesla syndrome,” symbolizing a clear indication of capitalism’s malfunctioning.

The 'Tesla Troubles' Phenomenon

While Tesla wasn’t solely responsible for all these issues, it has become a prominent example of substituting actual functionality with vague “innovation.” This practice involves replacing effective products and services with polished yet malfunctioning machines, “master algorithms,” and corporate strategies. The renowned French philosopher Jacques Ellul famously argued that the essence of technology is maximizing efficiency – finding the quickest path to accomplish a task. However, both Tesla and the broader realm of Big Tech have deviated from this principle, sacrificing tangible and valuable technology applications in favor of science fiction-like aesthetics.

Elon Musk epitomizes this problem. As he comically mishandled Twitter (now rebranded as X), he was compelled to hire a CEO, Linda Yaccarino. Nevertheless, he remains in charge and downplays the importance of CEOs. This behavior is not merely idiosyncratic; wealth and ownership have taken precedence over companies and entrepreneurs. This underlies the essence of the Tesla syndrome.

The term “class warfare” often evokes images of Karl Marx’s distinctive beard, workers leaving factories or picket lines, and bosses struggling to maintain control. Our perception of class and its challenges remains rooted in the 19th-century context. However, we’re in the 21st century, and within the era of “platform capitalism,” a key battleground of class struggle is the boardroom.

This truth is especially evident in the popular HBO comedy set in Silicon Valley. The protagonist, Richard Hendricks, a computer genius who starts a company, faces a journey to corporate success defined by his struggle to retain control. Venture capitalists, the funding providers, repeatedly try to push him to relinquish his role as CEO. In one season, Stephen Tobolowski’s portrayal of an amusingly out-of-touch executive underscores the idea that the individual with the concept, the eventual funds, and the managerial responsibilities should ideally be the same person: Richard Hendricks, or even Elon Musk.

However, these distinct roles are meant to be separate for capitalism to operate effectively. If someone has a billion dollars and invests 10 million in a startup with the expectation of gaining 100 million in five years, that’s not true capitalism; it’s an outcome of capitalism known as wealth. True capitalism focuses on expanding capital as its primary goal. Wealth is distinct from capital. When someone obtains money and saves, invests, or spends it on personal matters, they participate as a consumer and beneficiary of capitalist markets, but they don’t fit the definition of a “capitalist.” The capitalist – the figure central to 19th-century class warfare – is the person overseeing the factory floor. This differs from the owner, who remains more distant and watches their investment flourish.

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