Technology

Much has been written about technology, and there’s been a great deal of discussion for at least a century about technology, its benefits and drawbacks, and rebellions against its use in replacing old ways go back at least as far as the Luddite Rebellion in England in 1811. Although that rising and some twenty years of violence against machinery replacing laborers has been too often depicted as mindless violence against better technology, it was anything but mindless, and it wasn’t directed so much against better technology as against the economic and social impacts created by the use of that technology, which replaced modestly paid skilled work with low paid and almost poverty level semi-skilled work in the textile mills and elsewhere, leaving weavers and textile artisans literally starving in some places.

There’s no doubt that technology has improved the quality of life of those who benefit from its use, but what tends to get overlooked in the praise of technology is that, while technology often “solves” problems of the society which employs that technology, there are always those who bear the costs of those improvements, costs which are not inconsequential, and the employment and utilization of new technology in turn creates its own set of problems, problems which, almost invariably, are dismissed by the innovators who benefit from the technology, but are lamented loudly by those who suffer from it.

The industrialization and “technologization” of the United States created great wealth and a much higher standard of living for the upper class, the middle class, and initially, the working class. It also created in the beginning almost intolerable conditions in factories and sweatshops, incredible environmental problems, and air and water pollution, none of which were addressed until legislation forced the users of technology to do so. High-tech industry is pursuing the same path, except the pollutants are now include trace amounts of highly toxic substances, greenhouse gases, chemical-laced waters from fracking, and continued atmospheric pollutants. With the advent of highly automated manufacturing, the costs of many goods has declined, but that automation – and the outsourcing of formerly skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing jobs – has decimated the formerly economically prosperous semi-skilled working class in the United States, one of the reasons why whole urban areas, exemplified by Detroit, have become economically depressed, with swathes of barren and abandoned structures. The wide-scale use of personal higher-tech transportation has created cities where breathing the air is hazardous to health, and the indiscriminate use of medical antibiotics, while clearly benefitting people overall, has also resulted in the creation of more and more antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Each “improvement” in technology has, in fact, also created another level of problems, and each higher level impacts a wider area, to the point that new technologies are having global impacts. Pesticide residues are now routinely found in the arctic ice. CFCs diminished the world’s protective ozone layer, actually destroying it in places. Tiny bits of plastic are found in all the world’s oceans with negative impacts on the aquatic eco-system world-wide.

Yet, if we abandoned technology, most of the world’s current population would quickly starve. At the same time, because technology is a tool, and one whose costs of use fall disproportionately on those who do not benefit, as well as increasingly on the world as a whole, and one whose advancements inevitably create new and different problems, seeing technology as the total solution to all current problems is a fool’s game. Like all tools, technology can and will be misused. As with all tools, those with power will attempt to use it for their own personal benefit, regardless of the cost to others. And those who suffer most from its use will oppose it, at times close to mindlessly… and the politicians who, unhappily, are the only ones with the power to restrict its misuse and regulate its beneficial use, will listen only to money and votes.

3 thoughts on “Technology”

  1. Robert The Addled says:

    Its kind of funny how this was your topic today – I was recently discussing with a co-worker a relatively recent news story about the 2012 CME/solar storm that they recently decided almost passed close enough to us to wipe out the electrical age (possible hyperbole in the newscast).

    There is SO MUCH that relies on refrigeration – that messing up the power grids ALONE would result in widespread starvation and failures in the water supply.

    Sufficient EMP(or equivalent) to disable ground transport and communications would probably accelerate that hundredfold.

    Here is a NASA link that touts the hazards w/out as much hyperbole: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/23jul_superstorm/

    1. I was thinking about mentioning the CME possibilities. It’s another form of technological roulette. The 2012 storm really could have done massive damage, but the Earth was something like 40 million miles farther along in orbit. The point,though, is valid, because that CME did reach Earth’s orbit, meaning that the possibility for destruction is possible at any time.

      I was well aware that the dangers from CFCs were finally addressed, as were the direct dangers from “traditional” water pollutants, but in turn, new classes of dangers continue to be created as technology advances. It’s not a “solved and done” issue, which too many people believe.

  2. Darcherd says:

    Your data on CFC pollution may be a bit out of date. While it was indeed a major issue creating enlarging holes in the ozone in the 1970’s, particularly over Antarctica, the subsequent restriction on their use in the decades since has resulted in the ozone hole now being considerably reduced in size. In fact, this is routinely trotted out as an example of how the world, working together, could actually respond to and address an impending environmental catastrophe (usually reference in contrast to the faltering attempts to address global climate change in a coordinated, cohesive fashion). Of course, compared to global climate change, CFC’s were relatively easy to tackle, having a single, clearly demonstrable cause and effect, and relatively light economic impact from their banishment, none of which is true of global climate change.

    But your point is well taken – there are always going to be winners and losers any time there is a change to the status quo, whether due to technological advancement, or a cultural or political shift. But society can decide not to implement a particular technology, e.g. the ancient Romans developed the water wheel to mechanize the grinding of wheat into flour, but failed to adopt it widely. Some historians attribute this to the presumed changes such widespread increase in productivity would have meant for society, particular for the privileges of the elites, and theorize that the spread of waterwheel mill technology was deliberately, if not suppressed, restricted due to lack of interest on the part of any likely investors who might otherwise have found their position in society threatened.

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