“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” ~ Albert Einstein
“Have we become the fools of our tools?”
Recently a sociologist picked the gas lighter as the Number One technological invention of all time – portable instant fire in your pocket at a flick. Yes. The ability to make fire was one of the most important technological advances ever. A heated cave. Cooked food. A flame to scare off dangerous animals. The ability to melt iron into tools for hunting and weapons for protection, plows for cultivation, the settling of nomadic communities.
I am well aware of the important role technology plays and the miracles and lifestyle benefits it has bestowed upon humankind over millennia. But pivotal events over recent years have me asking the question I pose above.
Two factors are important:
- Technology itself has no conscience, compassion, or morals. Inventors, applicants and their motivation define it. The inventors of the atom bomb were horrified by its destructive power but politicians proclaimed it a life-saver that ended a long war. Opinion depends on where you stand, and where you stand depends on the chair you sit in.
- Our relationship with technology. Some of society and civilization’s most critical elements now rest on technology. Vast electricity, water, even defense networks are controlled via technology that can be incapacitated in a matter of mere seconds.
Technology affords people much “freedom of expression and makes life richer” whilst industry suffers billions of dollars in lost productivity due to the abuse of slick social applications during office hours.
- Where does this arc ultimately lead to? How much more “freedom and richness” do we need – especially during working hours?
Counterpoint: Miraculous medical developments have afforded countless people extended lifespans. As for personal mobile devices, many people also use them for work purposes.
The printing press supported the cultural, financial and spiritual Renaissance between the 14th and 17th centuries.
Future generations will similarly measure us by what technology they inherit – whether it remained our servant, became our master, perhaps even executioner. Our legacy should be more than technological remnants.
Social media has given “Power (back) to the People, right on”. It’s effective use in political campaigns and digital protest movements have changed governments and the political map. Effective yes, but with what social outcomes?
- Will we leave the world better than we found it or has technology become “one small step for mankind, one giant leap for financial, political and personal power grab”?
Counterpoint: We define the world we live in. Technology-based applications put billions of people productively in touch with each other daily, simultaneously enabling those with a sinister side to abuse it. Like boxers in a ring, we should protect ourselves at all times.
Chernobyl. Fukushima. Stark reminders that for all of humankind’s ingenuity and technological inventiveness we are mostly powerless in the face of disasters and still dependent on nature’s mercy.
- Is our faith misplaced in our ability to develop and control technological advances for the positive use of humankind?
Counterpoint: Technological advances augment the human spirit. It allowed humankind to scale Everest, explore space, visit the deepest oceans and enrich our lives with countless expressions of what is achievable.
Cyber-bullying tears the heart out of children. Faceless character assassins hide cowardly behind digital addresses. People end relationships in less than 140 twitter characters.
Counterpoint: Social software applications let friends and family stay in touch, swap photos, and strengthen emotional bonds. Portable devices bring joy and relaxation to people at all times.
Society depends on “black box” technologies of which operational people know less and less. New technological creations often do not advance our intellectual powers and has led to a generation of whom many cannot spell or do mental arithmetic, whilst handing these selfsame people the power to thoughtlessly use it for abusive purposes – only to demand the ability to erase their follies afterwards.
- What happened to discipline, ownership and responsibility?
Counterpoint: The internet was originally developed as an information-sharing tool between scientists and has developed into arguably one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Not surprisingly – it also developed a darker face.
From pulpit to porn – and everything in between – can be found on the internet, itself sadly becoming the addictive centerpiece in many lives, turning them into “part of the road” as it steamrolls over them.
The Ages of the Mega-church and Mega-death have arrived on the back of technology. The world has become a place where human life can be enriched or taken by the press of a button.
- We now hold in our hands the power to abolish both poverty and life with little effort. Which shall we choose?
Counterpoint: The adoption of technology for spiritual re-awakening and practicing stands in contrast to its application for corporate lifestyles. We have all heard great speeches and music or seen films which have moved us spiritually during life-pivotal moments.
My world is much better compared to when I was born. People live longer. Travel has broadened my mind. Technology afforded me a platform on which to build most of my life. I listen to great music and talk with friends anywhere on the planet. I am physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually richer with it than without it.
And I am still happy with an “older model” of my mobile phone.
- Have we become the fools of our tools?
- Technology affords people much “freedom of expression and makes life richer” – but where does this ultimately lead to?
- Our legacy should include more than technological remnants. What world will we leave behind?
- We are still mostly powerless in the face of natural disasters and dependent on nature’s mercy.
- Software applications strengthen family and friendship bonds by staying in contact easily.
- Our intellectual powers are often not advanced by new technological “black box” creations.
- We now hold in our hands the power to abolish both poverty and life with little effort.
- Define your relationship with technology as best you can.
- Protect yourself at all times.
- Let technological advances augment your spirit.
- Put technology to good social use.
- Maintain discipline and accept ownership and responsibility of how you use technology.
- Enjoy technology.