Why Technology Alone Will Never Change the World

At the dawn of every new technological era, there has been a palpable sense of hope. Hope for a better society. Hope that this or that new miracle will redeem us, ultimately. There is a sense of excitement and optimism for a brave new world, which is touted as a clean break from humanity’s tainted past.

But the fervor of each age has never been vindicated. Each leap in technology delivers some promise, changing life for the better in many ways, but creates its own unique set of problems and evils.

If there’s one lesson from the 20th century that stares us in the face, this has to be it: The most advanced civilization is responsible for the most bloodshed. And the materially wealthiest civilization is not the happiest. The most productive civilization is also the most exploitative, pushing the earth to the brink of complete ruin.

The great promise of connectivity that the internet, and its offshoot social media, offered is yet unfulfilled. If anything, we see a trend towards isolation and affirmation of narrow perspectives, “echo chambers” as they are called. Social media, in particular, has enabled a kind of pointless vanity and self-indulgence, and a reactionary mode of thinking, more so than it has enhanced human bonds or empowered self-expression or created a collective consciousness.

The promise of artificial intelligence to liberate us from the mechanical and mundane is the latest champion of humankind. But I wonder whether it may channel the worst in human nature too.

A common thread appears: technology will not make humanity better, it will not make humanity happier, at least by itself. Technology, and the things it creates, are only extensions of us: they can project the best and the worst in human nature. It is human nature itself we have to confront if we are to improve the state of humanity. We have had to contend with nature for most of human history. Now it might be time to contend with ourselves. Lest we become technologically advanced but stay morally primitive.

Photo by Alexis Huertas on Unsplash