The internet has changed our lives. It’s given us access to a world of information and allows us to communicate with people all over the planet. Thanks to the internet I no longer need to invest in a bookcase full of encyclopedias, carry a couple of hundred novels on my kindle, keep up with hundreds of friends via Facebook, blog my musings for the world to see, catch up on TV shows I missed, Skype conference with people across the country. When I visit my doctor he consults a vast online medical database; when I visit the Supermarket I can transfer funds between accounts using my smartphone; when I want to know what time a movie starts I can google the answer.

But while this constitutes a revolution in the speed and breadth of access to information and people, has it constituted a revolution as powerful and significant as the washing machine? Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang argues that it has not….at least not yet.

In terms of the consequent economic and social changes, the internet revolution has (at least as yet) not been as important as the washing machine and other household appliances, which, by vastly reducing the amount of work needed for household chores, allowed women to enter the labour market and virtually abolished professions like domestic service. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism pp31-32

And the knock-on effects were dramatic. Economic power and value changed the status of women in marriage, household and society. It saw girls now being educated, their intellectual capacities recognised, women no longer disempowered through financial dependence on men.

Ha-Joon Chang recognises that there were factors other than household appliances also contributing to these changes, and no doubt some historians would point to other factors as more significant in changing gender constructs, but whatever their precise role, without whitegoods our history would be very different.

So to the humble washing machine I say ‘thankyou’. And I stand rebuked by it, for it shouldn’t have taken technology to create an environment conducive to change.

 

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