By Erica Etelson, Truthout | Op-Ed
“Science now makes all things possible . . . but it does not thereby make all possible things desirable.” – Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine
The first thing I’d like to say about modern technology is this: I’d be dead without it. So would my son, surgically delivered and hospitalized for jaundice, and so too most of the people I know who at some point or another have stamped out life-threatening infections with antibiotics. As I pen this screed, I’m mindful of the fact that a good deal fewer than 7 billion humans could survive on this planet without the machinery, fuel, communications and computation devices that are the blood and backbone of contemporary civilization. But the fact that technology has enabled the human population to grow to 7 billion doesn’t necessarily mean that it can sustain this many of us forever. To assume that it will, without examining its (and our) vulnerabilities, is reckless.
The problem with technology is that most innovations have unintended consequences, and those unintended consequences are piling up, causing harm and creating dangers of existential magnitude. We turn a blind eye to those dangers and uncritically presume that, for all but the creepiest technologies (such as animal cloning), the benefits outweigh the risks and that technological innovation is humanity’s highest calling.
Global monoculture rarely sees a technology it doesn’t like. Working off the tacit assumption that technological innovation can and will solve the most critical threats to civilization – the collapsing environment, poverty, tyranny, disease pandemics and resource depletion – we are quick to celebrate unproven technologies and slow, oh so dangerously slow, to critically examine their safety and utility. It’s as though a magical spell has pervaded our groupthink, immersing us in deluded fantasies of meeting human needs with a few swipes of a touchscreen.