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How Techo-Capitalism Uses Religious Ideology

Stephen Ramsay discusses the evolution of words' meanings in relation to techno-capitalism.

Woman sitting with a computer in the foreground and a man in the background also with a computer
Photo by Canva Studios via Pixels

Ever since the publication of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, written by BYU alum Stephen Covey, many other writers have thrown in their two cents about what makes an effective person. This widespread focus on being a productive and effective member of society inspired Stephen Ramsay’s research. Ramsay, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, visited BYU to talk about how the rise of techno-capitalism, or the ways that a capitalist society changes as technology advances, enforces people’s need to feel effective and productive. In his Humanities Center Colloquium on January 18, 2024, Ramsay examined how the idea of techno-capitalism co-opts spiritual ideas to further its own purposes in creating highly productive people.

Ramsay opened his lecture with a discussion of how the definition of the word resilience, along with other “techno-capitalist buzzwords,” has changed throughout the years. In its original usage, resilience referred specifically to inanimate objects, such as buildings, that can withstand natural forces. Now, resilience refers to the way people bounce back from unfortunate circumstances (which can include natural forces, but is not limited to such). Some examples of this usage can include the news praising the people of New Orleans for recovering from Hurricane Katrina, or how Americans recover after a stock market crash.

Why has resilience gone through this change? Ramsay quoted Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy’s book, Resilience, saying, “‘We cannot control the volatile tides of change, but we can learn to build better boats.’” Building upon this quote, Ramsay continued with his own thoughts, “Labor unions, socialized healthcare, and free college tuition are never suggested as ways of dealing with anyone’s lack of resilience.” Ramsay argued that techno-capitalism’s supporters use resilience as a self-attaining “moral virtue” to convince people to increase productivity without addressing the underlying issues of machine-like work expectations and burnout.

Ramsay said, “It [techno-capitalism] plays upon spiritual longings that are quite literally ancient. And arguably, universal. Techno-capitalism opposes procrastination, depression, ill health, and disability of any kind . . . because it wants productive workers and eager consumers.” He continued, “It is happy to co-opt the language of spirituality . . . . [E]ven if this language is evacuated of any spiritual reference, [techno-capitalism] will still retain enough resemblance to more noble goals to draw us in.” By using morality in defining resilience, people will strive to meet those nearly impossible expectations because they believe it’s a requirement for good, moral people.

Stephen Ramsay, alongside his professorial duties, works as a fellow for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Before his time at the university, he worked as a software engineer at the Institute for Advanced Technology and the Virginia Center for Digital History. He has written books on his research in the digital humanities, such as Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism, published in 2011, and Six Septembers: Mathematics for the Humanist, published in 2017.

To see the list of Humanities Center events, click here.