There are a number of problems facing our society, from climate change to civil unrest, from hyper-partisanship to a global pandemic. Many of these, and other, problems have been caused or been exacerbated through our use of technology. But can technology save us as well?
Our industrial growth has spewed greenhouse gasses into the air. Evolving news outlets and the rise of social media platforms have increased the division that already existed in our society. International travel hastened the spread of a highly contagious and deadly disease.
If these problems have been hastened by technology, is there some hope that technology is also the potential solution?
Maybe we’ll rapidly discover and deploy a vaccine to combat the pandemic. Maybe carbon capture devices will halt or even reverse the level of greenhouse gasses. Or maybe cell phone and body cam footage will continue to make painfully clear the instances of racial bias that, in the past, might have gone unnoticed or disbelieved. The internet offers the possibility of exposing problems that must be addressed, or, in other cases connecting us, rather than dividing us.
But is it realistic to count on the very thing causing some of our problems to also be the cure? It might be that any efforts to develop a technological solution may just will only introduce new, and potentially even worse, problems. Or it could be that we need to use all the tools in our toolkit — including technology — to tackle the difficulties we currently face.
What do you think? Is tech to blame for the challenges we face? Will it offer us a way to address those them? Will technology save us?
Related questions: What new technology do you want? What skills have you lost due to technology? Is technology neutral? What role does technology play in your life? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?
4 thoughts on “Will Technology Save Us?”
What choice do we have? Or, more optimistically, what choices will we make?
Will we passively allow technology be created and used primarily to enrich the powerful and further centralize who makes the decisions about how our problems will be solved? Or will we come together to demand that positive, value-based technology be created and used, perhaps allowing millions of ordinary folks to play a role in, as the question asks, “saving us?”
The modern-day agrarian and essayists, Wendell Berry, wrote in “Solving for Pattern:”
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems. I am talking about health as opportunities to almost any cure, coherence of pattern as opposed to almost any solution produced piecemeal or in isolation.”
“Good solutions have wide margins, so that the failure of one solution does not imply the impossibility of another.” Industry “tends to put its eggs into fewer and fewer baskets and make ‘going for broke’ its only way of going.”
Berry articulates good guidelines for future technology or uses of current technology. For example, as the world’s energy needs increase, are we using technology that digs us further into the climate change hole (e.g. increased fracking) or will we rely on technology that doesn’t destroy while it creates (e.g. more wind turbines)? Will we non-destructively use natural processes, like tidal energy, to harness some of the world’s energy needs?
I also want to take on the notion that technology is just a tool and that, therefore, technology is neutral. Some say, technology is not the problem, just its uses.
Hogwash! In choosing to employ a technology, you must first accept that it was created for a reason, and you must also accept the consequences that come with it. For example, when we build roads — sometimes a good thing — we must accept that there will be roadkill — not good.
I note this just to say that we — not just our political and economic leaders — must play a larger, intentional, and critical role in how we solve future problems. Technology’s creators, as must be expected, have a vested, self-interest in the tools they create — usually more enrichment and power. As part of a democracy, we need our political processes to include us in the vision for the type of future we want to build and how we achieve it.
Not to take away from the thoughtful and serious nature of your response, but I just want to take a moment to point out the excellent use of your favorite nonsense word, “hogwash”.
I’m trying to think of alternatives, but I can’t.
Of course technology will be involved in discovering solutions to the myriad issues that face us. But it will also require perseverance, creativity, sacrifice, and other attributes that are not likely to be aided by technology in any way.
No. I do not believe that technology will save us.
As the question alludes to, technology often creates more, and worse, problems than it solves. The real problem is that we, as humans, lack the ability of foresight. We cannot predict all the possible negative effects that the creation of a new technology will have. People also have another, more serious problem. We’re naturally inclined to be stubborn and selfish. While many try hard to curb those natural inclinations, many more embrace them. We are, in fact, encouraged by society to do so.
So, no, I do not believe technology will save us. I believe it will be our undoing.