Having ushered in the 21st century, one can only gaze upon our achievements in awe especially when one considers the fact that mankind was once tittering on the brink of extinction. How did we get this far? Some would say it would be because of our opposable thumbs. Others would credit God and Creation. And still others think it was just a matter of luck. Regardless of what one believes in, it’s safe to say that we are here today because of technology: The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area.
The discovery of fire helped our species’ predecessors survive the Ice Ages and make considerable leaps in the food chain. The discovery of literacy furthered our understanding of the world around us and served as a springboard to other breakthroughs. The list of remarkable discoveries and inventions goes on and on and it goes without saying that they brought blessings and curses. But I believe that public opinion is not as critical of technology as it should be.
I am of the opinion that we are far too quick to note the benefits of a new technology whilst disregarding any possible hazards it may bring.
But before I go any further I wish to make it clear that this essay will steer away from the well-known ethical arguments. Transportation Our advances in the field of transportation are a testament to how far humanity has come within a few millennia. On a local scale, the advances in transport have done a great deal in saving peoples lives as victims of accidents can be rushed to nearby hospitals within a couple of minutes.
However, a 2000 UN study stated that road injuries killed more than 1 million people in low- to middle-income countries.
Furthermore, most of our transportation is dependent on fossil fuels. As developing countries continue industrialising (i. e. increasing transport) global CO2 levels are bound to increase. Of course one cannot forget that due to our extensive world wide transport system, a great deal of resources can be transported from one part of the world to the other thereby improving living standards as different regions no longer have to be self-sufficient but rather they could become specialised.
On a final note, one ought to keep in mind that the more connected the world becomes, the greater the risk of there being a massive pandemic. Though certain outbreaks such as the SARS virus were contained relatively easily, not all viruses begin to manifest themselves in such a short time. A virus with a dormancy period of several days would be deadly since by the time it is discovered, it would be present in many different locations. Medicine We’re living longer and longer and some of us are even planning on living forever all thanks to the advances made in the realm of health care and medicine.
Obviously, the fact that fewer people are dying now is good news. However, the sharp drops in infant mortality and the rising life expectancy rates have led to a rise in world population thereby putting greater strain on our resources. Also worth mentioning is the fact that there are millions of deadly biological weapons scattered throughout the arsenals of world powers. Some of these weapons have the potential to wipe out millions of lives, both plant and animal, thereby rendering whole areas of the globe uninhabitable.
Luckily, the theory of mutually assured destruction1 also applies to biological weapons. A more likely pharmaceutically produced disaster would be the accidental creation of a new, powerful super bug. Super bugs have already been created due to the use of antibiotics. The time may come when our strains of penicillin and penicillin derivatives can no longer keep up to the rapidly mutating bacteria. In the long run, the use of antibiotics may have been more detrimental than helpful in that it ended up strengthening bacteria that could possibly bypass our natural defences. Food
The advent of plastics and refrigeration along with the use of preservatives has made it possible for people to store food for longer periods of time. Foods can also be made more nutritious through careful breading. Moreover, an array of technical advances has attributed to unprecedented food yields. However, many of the preservatives, taste-enhancers, and hormones used may be doing a good deal of damage to our bodies. Controversial additives such as aspartame and aluminium are found in many items people eat each day. Another additive called acrylamide is known to be found in some baked goods and potato chips.
In rats and fruitflies, it causes cancerous changes, at concentrations 1,000 times higher than those found an average diet. On another note, the mass-scale production of food needed to feed the rising population, another side-effect of technology, requires vast tracts of clear land. This has led to massive deforestation in the Amazon, desertification in Sub-Saharan African, soil degradation, salinisation2, and even climate changes. Eroded or mineral-depleted soil simply cannot be replaced overnight. We all know what happened in the 1930’s US Dust Bowl. Daily life
A Westerner living in the 21st century has an array of options to choose from as forms of recreation: television, sports, film, et al. He would also not need to toil in the harsh conditions of an Industrial Revolution-type factory. All in all, life should be good. Why then is there so much stress and anxiety in our ‘advanced’ society? Theodore Kaczynski claims that us humans need to experience the so-called “power process” in order to live satisfactory lives. In a part of his manifesto he goes on to say, “In modern industrial society only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs.
It is enough to go through a training program to acquire some petty technical skill, then come to work on time and exert very modest effort needed to hold a job. The only requirements are a moderate amount of intelligence, and most of all, simple OBEDIENCE. “[Emphasis is his] That may very well be the reason why our society that offers a myriad of pleasure still witnesses suicide and clinical depression. Another effect of technology with regards to daily life is that most families are not as closely knit as they once were. This may account for the number of malcontents.
Back to the power process, as human beings in our society need not try very hard to achieve their basic needs, they will create artificial goals so as to fulfil their power process. This may explain the rise of extremist groups who appear bent on imposing their moral codes on others (Christian fundamentalists, political correctness whistleblowers, et al). Security Our daily life is also greatly affected by the State thanks to technology. Britain now has over 4 million CCTV cameras that watch over Britons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The level of surveillance has got to the point that some Britons are caught on camera 300 times each day.
Some may argue that this helps keep that streets safer, but there has yet to be any conclusive evidence for this. New York City removed CCTV cameras after an 18-month trial period because they only led to 10 arrests. All in all, the potential for an all-watching Leviathan increases by the day. Had the Soviet Union an array of CCTV cameras, identity chips, and other surveillance equipment, one can only wonder how vulnerable that regime would be to revolt. On another note, domestic security systems have seen quite a few changes in recent years.
Homes can now be outfitted with sophisticated motion detectors and anti-hacking software. Yet despite that, burglaries are on the rise in developed countries like England and the Netherlands. Technology has also greatly changed people’s security during times of war. Though some governments now have “smart” bombs, the wars of today affect civilians more than the wars of yesterday. I remember my old history teacher saying that while Napoleon and Wellington were embroiled in the battle of Waterloo, the actual citizens of Waterloo carried on with their lives.
Nowadays on has to worry about cluster bombs, depleted uranium, or of becoming “collateral damage”. In short, technology has affected practically every aspect of our lives. From the food we eat to the satisfaction from life we may get. While I do believe that the curses of technology outweigh its blessings, one can’t deny that technology is here to stay and that no one can single-handedly stop it. One need not wage a war against it but rather see to it that it is kept in check whenever the possibilities outweigh the risks.