Which sort of tech actually makes the most daily difference to the largest number of people?
One of the things that has frustrated me about science fiction is that technology pertaining to the smaller aspects of our lives is often neglected in favor of big giant rockets and exotic weaponry. Birth control seems non-existent and childbirth is still rocking the stirrups. And the home is at best not mentioned much. One of the things that “the future,” when we use that word as a metonymy for an idealized world in which machines solve all our problems, is supposed to do for us is give us time. Relieve us from work that is repetitive or unpleasant and allow us the sheer, simple hours in the day to do more. And yet, by far the biggest time sink going is the need to clean our habitats, prepare food and clothing, and maintain our environments. For those who have always had the, dare I say, privilege of ignoring that work, you simply cannot imagine how much time it takes to do all that and then turn around and do it again, often multiple times a day if there are offspring at play. Despite the fact that we here in the first world are supposed to have leveled up our gender equality stat, women still perform the majority of this labor, often in addition to a full shift outside the home. Fully automating this activity would free humanity on a scale that even the most awesome BFG can’t even begin to contemplate.
And though many enjoy cooking, though food prep has become a source of pride and even a hobby for a lot of people, vanishingly few get excited about what they’re going to clean today.
By far the biggest literary offender on this subject, I feel, is steampunk. Because when you’re talking about the 19th century, the invention that changes everything is not the difference engine, it’s not the airship, it’s not clockwork robots. It’s the washing machine. 19th century laundry was a brobdingnagian task that took all week, involved caustic chemicals that ruined the body over time, and exhausted both the spirit and the back. Only the ultra-rich could avoid taking part in at least some portion of it. Free women from that and you have a strong feminist movement almost instantly and probably a suffrage movement far earlier, you have a force of political action not broken by lye fumes and the crippling lack of time that hobbles any population attempting to manifest change. And yet we see again and again shiny tech meant to either imitate current “male” sphere toys, military and industrial and computational or to advance that same sphere past 19th c. specs, and very little thought at all spared for the half of humanity that spent that century maintaining households at the expense of most other activity.
In comments there someone notes that the gendered tech division is also about what gets tax credits and what doesn’t. Want to replace a team of cleaners in an office building with a floor-scrubbing machine that can be depreciated? Tax Office says YES, this is a legitimate cost of doing business. Want to have a home floor-scrubber to save woman-hours that could be used productively earning income elsewhere? Tax Office says NO, this is not a legitimate cost of earning an income.
I’d also like to note how religious family-first movements such as Quiverfull valorise traditional housekeeping skills with a minimum of time-saving appliances, and how that affects the time women in such families have to spare on any non-household activities.