Can We Handle Technology Responsibly?

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?

Featured image by Scott McLeod.


  • I loved this post. I have been thinking about this question of how we as a society use technology for some time, and specifically, about how we use social media as I move through an extended “social media existential crisis”.

    To your question about whether or not humanity is capable of using technology successfully, I’d say yes. It is and we are.

    But, I think you nailed it in your description of social as a public mirror that reflects the range of human behavior.

    So, there will always be a segment of humanity, or a society, capable of using technology successfully (of course one will have to define successfully in every instance) and there will also always be segments who abuse technology, who ignore technology and who run from it.

    As to where we’re heading with all this? I guess time will tell, and that troubles me.

    • And like attracts like, but some move through the circles and evolve. All I know is the more I use social, the less social I am. Odd. LOL. But the mirror is the truth, and it can be uncomfortable. Worse, it’s sad when we are blind to the mirror and can’t see ourselves for who we are. Then there is no change.

  • “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.”

    It’s the reality of our human mind, the way we react to things, until they are REALLY affecting us.

    I believe we are capable of using technology successfully and we have done it, but there is something in our beings, something that I can’t explain, call it animal instincts, call it a curse, but we don’t seem to do the right thing at the beginning of any situation, unless the consequences are right on our face at some point (consumerism and how it affects small countries, etc)

    My apologies for the long comment, but in a few words, yes we are capable of using technology successfully, just not right away.

    Great post Geoff.

    • I think you are right. To truly act, we need a sense of panic, panic a bout a real consequence. Intellectual acknowledgement of future impact is not emotional or instinctual reaction. An insightful comment, JC, thank you!

  • “we generally build tools that we are incapable of handling, make a mess of it, then respond appropriately.” Love this snapshot and admire the optimism of the third part. I think the 21st century’s challenge will be reacting appropriately when the check for climate change arrives, rather than freaking out and building giant moats filled with mutant sharks :)

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  • Using technology to enhance the human experience – yes.

    Using technology to “enhance” the human experience in our current paradigm of civilisation where systemic inequality, environmental degradation and diminishing civility is required to keep it thriving – no.

    We now have lots of technology but it seems to feed the machine, not slow it down. I believe that collectively we are using technology far too irresponsibly. A good case in point: If the bulk of technology were to be inoperable for even a moderate amount of time due to any number of plausible scenarios, then we would be catastrophically fucked. This alone should be cause for great alarm, but our boredom, apathy and petty squabbling over irrelevant details keeps us distracted and divided about how to best proceed with a better alternative. Our level of dependence on technology is beyond doubt. We need technology a lot more than it needs us.

    However, if one is going to bother with technology, we should bring forth the great and economically uncorrupted minds that can dedicate innovation to Free Energy. Our galaxies are power houses of energy, but we still find ourselves having to burn dirty rocks, dam entire countrysides, extract oceans oil and gas and place highly radioactive rods in water to power most of our consumer-driven lives. We should be like the ancients who brought together ideas, notions and debates from faraway lands that gave rise to the arts, sciences and philosophies that began to enliven and enlighten us as a species. And we have the Internet to do that – But what good is it when we obfuscate the individuals through convoluted, life-long systems of control, suppression and meaningless noise in order to permit a select few to vacuum up our combined effort and wealth to lavish upon themselves with their obscene, sociopathic lifestyles?

    As well, governments with their various offices and agencies stifle many a great thinker. It is for this reason that I advocate governance for the people in having their sovereign right to freedom from the economic and social constructs that presently toxify our world. A lot of humanity, however, is forced to endure ‘Government’ which perpetuates those very same economic and social constructs and furthermore, it punishes us for non-compliance and non-subservience to them.

    We employ missiles, bombs, bullets, imprisonment, taxation, sanctions,
    embargoes, corruption, violence, threats, theft, lies, degradation,
    segregation, isolation and an overall deadening of another’s spirits to
    settle our problems and then have the temerity to call what we do
    ‘Progress’ or ‘Growth’. Technology just happens to make those things
    more ‘efficient’ and pervasive. It permeates most of what we do, even
    the good things that people are capable of, and yet we would have to be
    one of the dumbest species on the planet that actively defends itself
    from doing away with such an evident failure. Some of these darker
    influences have been around for millenia – How come we still can’t
    dismantle their influence already?

    Well done humanity. You’ve really outdone yourselves here.

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