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Philosophy of Technology and Development

The following is a philosophy article by Scott Hughes. Posted July 26th, 2009.

I think we all find ourselves awed by the exponentially increasing rate of technological advancement. I would guess that we have made more technological development in the past 500 years than we have in the 5,000 years prior to that, more in the past 100 years than the 500 prior to that, and more in the last 10 to 20 years than in the 100 years prior to that. It not only seems we continue to make technological advancements, but we do it faster.

But are the advancements in technology advancements in general? Sure we make stronger, more powerful tools and machines that do more jobs with less work and resources. But is advancing our power a general advancement for us when we use that power for our own disadvantage? In the end, will we say that our technological development helped us or destroyed us?

We cannot ignore some obvious immediate luxuries of technology that at least some of us enjoy. Most of us surely prefer using a mattress and a toilet more than using the ground instead of both. We can harvest more food and energy which some of us get to use for great luxuries from air conditioning to transportation.

But how do those needless luxuries usually only for some compare to the massive dangers, risks and damages imposed usually on all? How many personal luxuries for some are worth the dropping of two nuclear bombs on hundreds of thousands of civilians? What about the significant threat of a nuclear holocaust? Medical technology has increased our longevity, but we neglect our elderly, stuff them in facilities and ignore the fact that they commit suicide more than anyone else. We produce more food than could feed the whole world, but we still let thousands of children die from hunger daily and let more than a billion suffer in poverty. We live as far away from work and food sources as we want, but we destroy our environment by polluting it with mass-transportation, let alone the thousands who die in automobile accidents each month. We each hoard and compulsively use modern, personal luxuries without holding ourselves responsible for each of our individual contribution to collectively caused problems like the destruction of our environment or the depletion of finite resources. We invented an ever-advancing television system and an even more impressive information highway, so that we can fuel our ever-increasing addiction to internet porn, gossip news and commercialized media.

I see our technology as not only incredibly amazing but incredibly disgusting.

But I would not recommend that we avoid development.

We need to balance our development. We need to balance technological development by also developing our interpersonal skills, our self-control and our respect for the consequences of our actions including the consequences of our collective activities. In an analogy, perhaps guns and cars can be helpful, but how stupid would it be to give a 10-year-old child a loaded real live gun or let him zoom around recklessly in a real live car? We need to balance the power of technological development with maturity.

I love to imagine what ever-increasing technological advancements would hold for a mature, warless, poverty-less global society built on freedom, fairness, self-control and interpersonal caring. But to think of the same ever-increasing technological advancement for a society as immature and self-destructive as our current one, I find myself fighting to hold onto a sad, deep fear as opposed to the bland cynical knowledge that we will destroy ourselves with our own technologically-empowered foolishness.

What do you think? Please use this thread to post your comments on the above article and post your thoughts on technology and development.