Technology and Class Issues

I’m watching a Soviet TV series about the 1930s and it made me realize how much technology is erasing class barriers. For the longest time, people were subdivided into the social class that always hired somebody to wash their clothes and the class of people who washed their own and somebody else’s stuff.

Even in the USSR, in the midst of one of those constructions of the century, there were people who were not going to do their own laundry no matter what, and everybody accepted this is completely normal.

Of course, now there are washers and dryers, so we don’t see doing one’s own laundry as a marker of social class. There is going to a public launderette as opposed to using your own washer and dryer, but it’s not the same thing.

P.S. N and I discussed it, and it turns out that we have only the kind of people who did their own laundry on both sides of the family.

14 thoughts on “Technology and Class Issues”

  1. There is a class in America where mothers return from a full day at work and start the laundry. There is another class where a worker from Latin America does the laundry, grocery shopping and cooking, and her employers have not entered a grocery store for years. I fail to see that class differentiation has been erased.

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    1. “There is a class in America where mothers return from a full day at work and start the laundry.”

      – That sounds very tragic. 🙂 I’m guessing you have never had a chance to live without a washer and a dryer, eh? 🙂

      As somebody who washed everything (including the bed linens) with my own hands for years, I’m not likely to feel a lot of compassion towards somebody who has to go to the trouble of pushing a button after – oh, horror! – coming from work.

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  2. I would argue that America doesn’t really have any fixed classes, just different incomes and wealth levels. You could start off washing dishes somewhere and then start a business and become very rich and be the person now who hires the people who do laundry and so forth.

    Also just curious, but what is this Soviet TV series? (I have great interest in the history of the Soviet Union).

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      1. I figured that, however could you still tell me which series it is? I am planning to learn Russian soon, so I just see it that once I learn the language, I will be able to watch it.

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  3. This reminds me of a paragraph in one of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels about doing laundry as a marker of class and gender- I think it was Breakfast of Champions- where he talks about how men didn’t want to ever be caught doing laundry because they saw it as “women’s work”, and upper-class women didn’t want to ever do laundry because they saw it as “N****r work”. Laundry does reveal a lot more than I thought!
    I think I realized that society has reached a tipping point on accessibility of technology for people of various classes once I came to university and found an entire group of wealthy students who opted to live with “as little technology as possible” (their words) and saw it as a status symbol to “live simply”. They were all from upper-middle class backgrounds, and liked to brag about how they didn’t own a TV, computer, cell phone, or device like an iPad or a Kindle, and how they “made their own entertainment”. Suddenly, it was more chic and elite to not have technology.
    Needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for them, I generally dislike people who base their life choices on needless excess of romanticism, especially when they were inspired to do so during a very expensive backpacking trip to Peru or Thailand.

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    1. “Needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for them, I generally dislike people who base their life choices on needless excess of romanticism”

      – I SO agree.

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  4. To some extent, availability of really cheap labor makes a difference too, although if technology could out-cheap the labor, then your point still holds. I’m thinking of my “class” of folks in South Africa who still all have full-time maids to do their cleaning and laundry, but otherwise are at a lower “class” level than the folks who can afford that here. There are too many able people without other jobs in South Africa, so it is still relatively cheap to have someone else do your laundry, even if you have a washer/dryer. Part of it is that you get everything (including your underwear) perfectly ironed, whereas most Americans I know have just relaxed their standards (wearing less-than-perfectly-ironed clothes to work, buying shirts made out of cheaper, less wrinkly fabric).

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  5. I think you’ve found something that separates the 99% from the 1% in the United States. As huge as the differences between the top end and the bottom end of the 99% are, for the most part, they all do their own laundry. For the most part, up in the 1%, they have employees or laundry businesses take care of it for them.

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    1. What is being discussed in the article is, in my opinion, a complete non-issue. Women who agree to move in with men incapable of cleaning their own space and doing their own laundry have always mystified me. And a family of 4 that can’t clean its own place efficiently and within just a few hours is an even greater mystery. Of course, if we are discussing people who live in a mansion, self-service is problematic. But, honestly, who cares about people in a mansion and what they do?

      In our family, N. is in charge of cleaning our 2-floor townhouse. He can now easily afford to hire somebody to do that for him. But he doesn’t want to because cleaning is a welcome physical activity after his very sedentary job. As for me, I don’t care who cleans, as long as I don;t have to do it. 🙂

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