I hesitate to jump into this subject. Much has been written, both in scholarly and press/media circles about whether the technology, especially its hyper-accelerated advancement in recent years, acts as a force for good or evil. What can I add? Little more than yet another perspective, to be sure.
Yet, we can’t escape the question. We struggle with it every day, from the decision of what car (fossil-fueled, hybrid, or 100% EV) we buy, to how much time we spend on social media (vs. that other kind of social interaction, you know, the one with au naturel facial recognition). Speaking of media, it seems as divided on this topic, but in the end, especially in entertainment, technology comes out as the bad guy. After all, who wants to go see a feel good movie about technology saving the day? Tales about frightening technology seeking to subdue our humanity sell much better.
But let’s stop a second. Here, in everyday life, do we really act as if technology is evil? Aren’t we more than glad to take TheraFlu when we get that nasty virus? Aren’t we more than willing to purchase foods harvested and processed with tools our ancestors a mere one hundred years ago couldn’t have fathomed? Don’t we—whether with cynical disdain or unbridled enthusiasm—communicate and connect far more efficiently through means far more advanced than hand-written letters, drum beats, and smoke signals (even if those were technologically-based, too, by the way)? Aren’t we terribly happy and comfortable in our ability to refrigerate food for weeks rather than having to go hunt-gather it on a daily basis? I could go on with a myriad of examples that show: here in the real world we embrace technology and its benefits. One could argue we live longer, healthier lives because of it. If nothing else, we’re loathe to give up on the convenience.
Stipulating to that honest assessment, the question remains. I mean, look at the Atom bomb and nuclear technology. Heck, even when that fusion thing produces gobs of electricity to power our pleasant lives, we have to deal with the mountains of radioactive waste it produces. And what about the way this amazing, worldwide interconnectivity has turned on us to rob us of our privacy and track us no matter where we go or what trivial activity we engage in? What of all the ways automation and emerging robotic technology threatens to rob us of jobs, autonomy and human interaction? And those great means of transportation? We waste hours in our fancy cars going to and forth to work, so we can pay for those same cars and all the other gadgets in our lives and the energy to power them!
In one of my series, Tracking Jane, this push-pull of technology runs as a strong undercurrent theme. There we see that while Jane’s life—literally—gets new, improved footing thanks to revolutionary prosthetic legs and associated gadgetry, the way that technology can be misused threatens her fragile psyche, her humanity, and above all, her freedom. The way she personally navigates whether to continue to embrace that technology or pay the price for giving it up in some ways mirrors the way we, at least intellectually, grapple with the good and the bad of technology. Through her journey, Jane learns that the technology she enjoys started out with good intentions—and then someone got a better idea.
As it turns out, technology doesn’t misuse itself. Well, not yet, anyway. For now, at this point in history, we are both the creators and users of technology. We own full responsibility for its use and misuse.
When technology exhibits the proverbial bug, we put it there through human oversight, imperfect thinking, incomplete forethought, misguided intent, or all of the above. When technology developed for one purpose finds itself vectored toward a different, deleterious one, it didn’t do so autonomously. If technology takes on an ugly turn, we have no one to blame but the guy or gal in the mirror. When a tool meant for good finds itself hurting us instead, we should see if it needs a fix, yes, but we should also examine what to do about the ugly in us that brought about the undesired, hurtful effect.