The dehumanization of human beings by the modern, automated world is escalating. The biggest problem with technology, which can eventually lead to the downfall of humanity, is people. It seems that our technology has surpassed our ethical capacity.
Since technology can give an individual a massive amount of power, and the ability to inflict catastrophic amounts of damage, the consequences for people’s actions are greater. In Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove, we meet with scientists, astronauts, and military personnel who are negatively affected by the technologies they have created. In each of these stories a different type of technology is revealed: bio technology, chemical technology, computer technology, and weapons technology. Today our technology seems to have outstripped our means to control it in so many areas that one could just as easily imagine a genetic, medical, environmental, or technological apocalypse.
Technology is root of all evil, says IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has this month brought out its World Economic Outlook for 2007, and the various heavyweights of financial news have all had their bash at reporting on it. Normally, no vulture would stir on his/her perch over this type of thing – unless, perhaps, Paris Hilton had been implicated in some kind of major economic upthrust – but in this case, the economists make some rather startling pronouncements about technology.
In essence, according to the IMF, technological innovation is what causes economic inequality among the human race. Yes, you read that right: technology – and not just the machinery, but people with tech skills – are to blame for the fact that some people are dirt poor and others disgustingly rich.
“Technological progress alone explains almost all of the increase in inequality from the early 1980s,” according (pdf – page 2) to the IMF.
The authors admit that globalisation has also been a factor in the way the poor are now so much further behind the rich, but technology is the true villain.
“Increased financial globalisation – and foreign direct investment in particular – has also played a role in increasing inequality, but contrary to popular belief, increased trade globalisation is associated with a decline in inequality,” say the IMF writers.
“Technological advances have contributed the most to the recent rise in inequality.”
This is held to be because higher tech “increases the premium on skills and substitutes for relatively low-skill inputs”.
In other words, overpaid IT people with their systems, networks etc are stealing bread from the mouths of poor but honest file clerks, printers, semaphore operators, call-centre people, recording execs and so on. IT, powered machinery, cheap tools, new drugs – it’s all evil and divisive, promoting war, rebellion and strife. Big global business trading in old-fashioned stuff like commodities – you know, mining, agribusiness – these people are your friends.
Most of the mainstream financial press have chosen to ignore this dazzling suggestion from the world globalisation bureau that globalisation is great and if something has gone wrong it must be someone else’s fault.
Some say technology is a blessing; others say it’s a curse. Which is right? They both are. Think about it: Technology can give you cancer, and technology can cure your cancer. So it’s not about whether technology is good or bad; it’s about what we decide to do with technology that matters.
Today, thanks to exponential growth in processing power, storage, and bandwidth, we have the ability to do things that were literally impossible just a few years ago
Thanks to science we live a better way of life, right? – wrong science has supposedly made our material life better but has brought us closer to Hell.
We have made numerous discoveries but what application have we put this knowledge to.
Points to Ponder
– Who taught man to destroy himself a million times over.
– Why is it that the humble fly and the mosquito have not been eradicated and people still die of Malaria. It is because research is not funded in this area but trillions of dollars go towards research in arms and newer ways of killing our fellowmen.
– Why is there no cure for the common cold or herpes or aids or cancer though we have technology that can guide a satellite millions of miles out into outer space.
– Who created the filth and garbage that reminds the world of the dark side of science
– Who is polluting the earth, its air, its rivers, its human beings with millions of chemicals
– Why and Who invented DDT, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, plastics and other unrequited stuff that we don’t really need.
– Why and who invented plastic explosives and what was the need for this.
– Why are thousands upon thousands of people dying of cancer
– Why are thousands upon thousands of people dying of heart related disease.
– Why were our ancestors simple and happy while modern generations are confused and searching with all their technology.
– When there were a few cars it was ok, now imagine 900,000,000 (900M) vehicles, ships, planes and engines burning out the precious oxygen and giving out smoke and pollution.
– We have drugs that preserve life but who gave man the science to destroy himself with drugs.
How Evil is Tech?
Not long ago, tech was the coolest industry. Everybody wanted to work at Google, Facebook and Apple. But over the past year the mood has shifted.
Some now believe tech is like the tobacco industry — corporations that make billions of dollars peddling a destructive addiction. Some believe it is like the N.F.L. — something millions of people love, but which everybody knows leaves a trail of human wreckage in its wake.
Surely the people in tech — who generally want to make the world a better place — don’t want to go down this road. It will be interesting to see if they can take the actions necessary to prevent their companies from becoming social pariahs.
There are three main critiques of big tech.
The first is that it is destroying the young. Social media promises an end to loneliness but actually produces an increase in solitude and an intense awareness of social exclusion. Texting and other technologies give you more control over your social interactions but also lead to thinner interactions and less real engagement with the world.
As Jean Twenge has demonstrated in book and essay, since the spread of the smartphone, teens are much less likely to hang out with friends, they are less likely to date, they are less likely to work.
Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who spend less time. Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent. Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, like making a plan for how to do it. Girls, especially hard hit, have experienced a 50 percent rise in depressive symptoms.
The second critique of the tech industry is that it is causing this addiction on purpose, to make money. Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with “hijacking techniques” that lure us in and create “compulsion loops.”
Snapchat has Snapstreak, which rewards friends who snap each other every single day, thus encouraging addictive behavior. News feeds are structured as “bottomless bowls” so that one page view leads down to another and another and so on forever. Most social media sites create irregularly timed rewards; you have to check your device compulsively because you never know when a burst of social affirmation from a Facebook like may come.
The third critique is that Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook are near monopolies that use their market power to invade the private lives of their users and impose unfair conditions on content creators and smaller competitors.
The political assault on this front is gaining steam. The left is attacking tech companies because they are mammoth corporations; the right is attacking them because they are culturally progressive. Tech will have few defenders on the national scene.
Obviously, the smart play would be for the tech industry to get out in front and clean up its own pollution. There are activists like Tristan Harris of Time Well Spent, who is trying to move the tech world in the right directions. There are even some good engineering responses. I use an app called Moment to track and control my phone usage.
The big breakthrough will come when tech executives clearly acknowledge the central truth: Their technologies are extremely useful for the tasks and pleasures that require shallower forms of consciousness, but they often crowd out and destroy the deeper forms of consciousness people need to thrive.
Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy. Online is a place for information but not reflection. It gives you the first stereotypical thought about a person or a situation, but it’s hard to carve out time and space for the third, 15th and 43rd thought.
Online is a place for exploration but discourages cohesion. It grabs control of your attention and scatters it across a vast range of diverting things. But we are happiest when we have brought our lives to a point, when we have focused attention and will on one thing, wholeheartedly with all our might.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that we take a break from the distractions of the world not as a rest to give us more strength to dive back in, but as the climax of living. “The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, joy and reticence,” he said. By cutting off work and technology we enter a different state of consciousness, a different dimension of time and a different atmosphere, a “mine where the spirit’s precious metal can be found.”
Imagine if instead of claiming to offer us the best things in life, tech merely saw itself as providing efficiency devices. Its innovations can save us time on lower-level tasks so we can get offline and there experience the best things in life.
Imagine if tech pitched itself that way. That would be an amazing show of realism and, especially, humility, which these days is the ultimate and most disruptive technology.
Here I am, sitting in a house heated by a gas/forced air furnace, illuminated by an incandescent bulb, writing down my thoughts on a computer screen, accessing the internet by a wireless connection and weighing in against modern technology. I will be the first to tell you, however, that I don’t want to go back to the way it was, even a few decades ago, when I shivered over a lone heat register in the kitchen, pounded out my writing assignments on an ancient typewriter with a faded ribbon, waiting for my water to boil on a gas stove and my cinnamon toast to bake in the oven. Daily life has been so revolutionized by a steady progression of technological improvements that few of us can imagine living any other way. Conveniences have become such necessities that anyone who has no microwave, cell phone or digital alarm clock is considered deprived.
Man’s inventive genius continues to prolifically breed new technologies, and with each new technology, a cottage industry springs up to feed, clothe and shelter it. Computers have generated software, music, movies, photo-shopping and enough peripheral gadgetry to fill a catalog. With the cell phone came personal ringers, phone cameras, text messaging, GPS capabilities, internet access, ebooks, and on and on. Automobiles can now do much more than transport passengers. They can pamper, comfort, entertain, advise, warn and tell drivers how to get to their destination. We now foresee the day when we won’t even have to steer the machine down the highway. There seems to be no end to our fertile imaginations. But I am haunted by the words of an old evangelist. He said, “Man will never hold out long enough morally to do what he wants to do scientifically. Even as we mount up to the heavens in the space age, we mire down in the mud of sin and shame.” I see this chilling prediction coming true before our very eyes and ears in the twenty-first century. Our heads cannot out-smart our hearts.
Something is insanely wrong with all of this progress. Not only have promises of utopia not materialized for the bulk of civilization, in many cases we have regressed back to prehistoric levels. We have not eliminated murder; we have made murder easier. We have not eliminated theft; we have made stealing easier. We have not eliminated racism; we have made racism easier. We have not eliminated pornography; we have made pornography easier. Inherent within the new technologies we find all the old maladies. Good things undeniably come from our scientific and technological breakthroughs. Unfortunately, these developments have also been subverted for evil purposes. Indeed, the evil we have enabled may end up canceling out the good we have created in society at large.
The most obvious example of this is nuclear technology. The fascinating capabilities of nuclear fission for energy also gave rise to the most destructive weapon ever invented. Regardless of how atomic weaponry is used—whether for defensive purposes or aggressive military action—the fact remains that it is used to kill and destroy. Other scientific discoveries have also been channeled into military uses, like rocketry, aerodynamics, fiber optics, laser beams, radar, modulated radio and television signals, satellites, etc. If it helps, we can make it hurt. If it heals, we can make it injure. If it does good, we can make it do bad. This position has been argued in philosophical terms as well. Regent University’s website on communication contains this paragraph:
In medical science we can find an alarming example of the limits of technology. Jerome Groopman wrote an article in the New Yorker Magazine, August 11, 2008, entitled “Superbug: The new generation of resistant infections is almost impossible to treat.” He said, “In August, 2000, Dr. Roger Wetherbee, an infectious-disease expert at New York University’s Tisch Hospital, received a disturbing call from the hospital’s microbiology laboratory. At the time, Wetherbee was in charge of handling outbreaks of dangerous microbes in the hospital, and the laboratory had isolated a bacterium called Klebsiella pneumoniae from a patient in an intensive-care unit. “It was literally resistant to every meaningful antibiotic that we had,” Wetherbee recalled recently. The microbe was sensitive only to a drug called colistin, which had been developed decades earlier and largely abandoned as a systemic treatment, because it can severely damage the kidneys. “So we had this report, and I looked at it and said to myself, ‘My God, this is an organism that basically we can’t treat.’ ”
Much of the toxic social climate we experience today comes to us at the hands of modern technology. Who can dispute the widespread conviction that television has had a deleterious effect on culture? It is a waster of time, numbing minds and killing creativity. It has also piped pure filth from a godless and immoral Hollywood into the living rooms of the world. The radio has dispensed anarchy, vulgarity and corruption through the powerful medium of music, especially targeting adolescents and teenagers. In the last decade, pornography has spread wildly throughout the internet, victimizing viewers who would seldom or never come in contact with sexual perversion any other way.
Amazingly, these same technologies have transmitted as much or more truth, virtue, goodness and love as they have depravity. How is this possible? Is technology, then, culpable? Innocent? Morally neutral? In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The theme of this book is not that there is anything good or bad about print but that unconsciousness of the effect of any force is a disaster, especially a force that we have made ourselves” (p. 248). Regent University comments “Insert any technology for the word “print” and you realize that for McLuhan it is not the content that really matters. In this case it is not even the channel but rather our knowledge and understanding of the medium’s potential impact.” They then ask, “Is print an amoral technology? Can any technology be amoral? These are issues that must be addressed and answered before we can begin to develop a philosophical system to address the convergence of media and technology, and its impact on society.”
I contend that communication technology has the greatest potential for evil of all the developments of modern science. This should not surprise us who are in the business of spreading the gospel.