Monday, July 03, 2006

Technology Pros and Cons

Does technology solve problems, or does it create them? The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in the middle, though probably a smidgen closer to the creative end of whatever equation one uses to determine the problem solution/problem creation ratio of applied technology.

No one can argue that technology doesn’t solve problems. We see the positive aspects of technology all around us, working hard to extend life, to increase productivity, to improve on old technology, to create new products and new technologies, and to simplify our existence by bringing a myriad of labor saving devices to consumer markets.

What few people seem to see—or even think about—is the dark side of technology, the side with unintended consequences that diminish positive gains. An old maxim states that everything has a price, and it applies as much to technology as to anything else.

Medical technology cures diseases and saves lives. It also causes drug resistant strains of bacteria and virus mutations, abets global overpopulation, and contributes to rising healthcare costs.

Better living through chemistry adds to air and water pollution and helps generate waste material for landfills.

The internal combustion engine made possible relatively cheap, convenient personal transportation systems. It also gave us environmental pollution, global climate change, strip malls, suburban sprawl and a dependency most people find hard to break.

Production technology, with its emphasis on mechanization and automation, speeds production processes, but at the same time displaces human workers who then suffer the effects of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and increasing crime.

Despite its potential to produce time-and-labor saving benefits to ease mankind’s burden, technology has, in many ways, delivered the opposite. Many people working in our high-tech society find themselves working harder than ever, with less available leisure time.

Technology—and the science behind it—still offers the best hope for human advancement, providing humans are willing to abandon the arrogant mindset of “we do it because we can” and adopt a wiser, more responsible mindset that says, “We do it because we must.”