Technology: A force for good or evil?
Apr 30, 2013 | 5872 views | 0 0 comments | 851 851 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An old friend and I engaged in a timeless debate earlier in the week. Does technology help or harm society?

There are plenty of wonderful things about technology. An entire library of music or books can fit into a device easily held in one hand. Fifteen years ago, this would have been unheard of.

Cars are safer and more efficient than they have ever been before. As a reporter, I’ve seen wrecks that would have been fatal when I was a child. People walk away with nary a scratch.

The information available at my fingertips is amazing. Even in college, 15 to 20 years ago, students spent hours in libraries, hunting up books and journals in a quest for information. Now, I can type in a search term in a computer, and have hundreds of choices of research material.

We can control our homes with smart phones. Some people can switch air conditioners on a half-hour before they come home. Light bulbs use a quarter of the energy they used to burn. Electricity is saved.

Medical technology means we live longer and enjoy a decent quality of life. I recall 20 years ago, a diagnosis of HIV was a death sentence. Now, with modern retro-viral drugs, people with HIV are more likely to die of old age. Interventional cardiology means people who once required open-heart surgery now get minimally-invasive procedures and are home the very next day.

But when does technology go too far? My fear is when technology becomes a crutch. Two recent films come to mind, “Idiocracy” and “Wall-E.” In these films, humanity grows complacent and depends entirely upon technology for even the most menial tasks.

Why learn when any answer to any question is available at your fingertips?

My generation was the first to use calculators for higher level mathematics. We still learned the old way of crunching numbers just in case we had no access to calculators.

Then the medical technology ushers in a lot of ethical questions. We can prolong life to an age that just a century ago was an incredible exception and not the rule.

We have technologies that can treat illness, but do not cure it. Some people cynically say, “There’s no money in a cure.” Pharmaceutical companies create drugs for erectile dysfunction and hair loss, while in undeveloped countries people are still dying of tropical diseases such as malaria.

That leads me to my next point, the unintended consequences of technology. Years ago, DDT was developed, in part to kill mosquitos in tropical areas. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, in 1962, Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring.” It turns out DDT was killing beneficial insects, too, and was responsible for the near extinction of the bald eagle. We don’t use DDT anymore.

Antibiotics were created to fight disease. There is no doubt these are some of the most beneficial drugs humans have ever known. Misuse of antibiotics has led to the evolution of drug-resistant bacterium. People are dying from diseases we created and are unable to cure.

The last and unintended side-effect of technology I’ve observed is automation. While goods can be created and tasks completed with less manpower, the problem here is a loss of jobs.

Henry Ford once wanted all of his employees to be able to afford to buy one of his cars. Look at the unemployment and urban decay in the rust belt. Office staffs are reduced because fewer people are doing more. Wages remain the same, and more people are looking for work.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it needs responsible application. Above all, technology should never replace critical thinking and human intellect.
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