One has to wonder whether humanity is capable of making a better world with technology. This is a central theme in many arenas, from government policy and online conversations to Hollywood movies (even kids movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 take this on) and science fiction books.
Some voices are very optimistic, beliveing we can change everything for the better with technology. Others feel it’s the devil’s work, arming bad people with tools for destruction. And others argue it’s not the tools, rather what people do with them.
I tend to lean more towards the middle with a slightly negative view.
Kim Stanley Robinson makes a powerful argument in his ecothriller/space opera 2312 that we generally build tools that we are incapable of handling, make a mess of it, then respond appropriately. This makes sense to me, as generally I think human beings don’t consider consequence until after the fact.
Just consider the mounting climate crisis and our unwillingness to address the matter. In the United States, we are simply unwilling to address this issue on a national policy level. We are gridlocked with partisan politics and a generally unempathizing public. This apathy exists is in spite of technological developments that can dramatically transform energy creation and carbon emissions.
Frankly, I don’t think we will do anything about the increasing environmental crisis until we experience a man-made ecothreat to humanity that causes significant death counts in the hundreds of thousands or worse.
But once humanity sees the true danger, I am sure we will use technology to help amend the situation. This seems to be our approach to the world.
The Social Media Example
Social media provides another example. Many of us hoped conversations would elevate society. Though we have seen great societal good happen through conversational media, we have also witnessed a marked drop in civility, polarization of views, and the rise of a Grumpy Cat culture where pet pics rule supreme.
The truth? Social has just provided a very public mirror of where we are as a species. We hate, we posture, we seek attention, we love, we heal, we grow.
I believe that when the ugly side of social gets to be too much, society as a whole will evolve. Social norms will change, and what is commonly accepted will change for the better. Progress will occur.
You Can’t Run from Technology
What doesn’t work is running from technology.
This is actually a story ark in The Fundamentalists. Exodus (Book One) shows the absence of technology, a direct result of fear resulting from the ecological disaster that created this world. The absence of technology creates a societal power vaccuum. In the next book, the people of Harpers Ferry will have to embrace technology if they hope to have any chance to survive.
My intended point in this story arc is that even if you choose to avoid technology, others will use it to your disadvantage. Like it or not, avoidance creates consequence, usually for the negative. The impact is usually a deterioration of economic, personal and/or societal freedoms.
Those consequences can be subtle for those who fail to adapt, such as computer literacy’s impact on the graphic design and writing professionas. Graphic design has become an increasingly important skill as data visualization takes hold and people seek easier ways to understand information. Meanwhile, the newspaper industry is still evolving and diminishing as result of computing and Internet technologies. Could any talented writer or designer survive in the current environment without understanding how to use modern computing tools?
Good or bad, using technology is necessary for economic survival.
What do you think? Is humanity capable of using technology successfully?