Technology Is Not Evil (But, It’s Dangerous)

Humans can’t help but invent things.  But, to paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, just because something has been invented, it does not mean we have to use it.  However more efficient and productive a chainsaw is, we have no moral obligation to use one rather than an axe if the axe makes us happier.  That’s what technology is for isn’t it?  To make us happier?  Or maybe I have got it backwards.  Maybe humans were put on this earth to improve technology.     

I sometimes feel guilty for walking to the store when I could drive instead and save fifteen minutes.  But if I turn a fifteen minute walk that I would have enjoyed into a three minute drive that I don’t enjoy, I’m not really saving fifteen minutes – I’m losing three minutes.

Often, I reckon that using a piece of technology in order to be more efficient and productive does add to my overall happiness.  (Instant water heaters are awesome.)  But sometimes it doesn’t and I have to remember to ask the question before I fire up a given contraption and rupture the little bit of tranquility I’ve gained between uses. 

So far we’re assuming that a chainsaw really is more efficient than an axe.  It’s obvious isn’t it?  Well, let’s really look at the chainsaw.  It is obviously faster and louder than an axe.  But as magnificent as the chainsaw is, it has it’s drawbacks:

  • It’s more expensive (how many man-hours and parts go into one chainsaw?)
  • It’s heavier
  • It’s harder to sharpen
  • It can kill the operator (so can an axe – but it takes a little more skill)
  • It is harder to fix
  • It takes more storage space 
  • When you really need it, it won’t start
  • All it can do is cut wood
  • You can’t pound, or pull nails with it
  • It’s not good at splitting rounds
  • It’s smelly
  • It’s loud
  • It requires gas and oil
  • It’s hard to carry up trees
  • When you’re using one and someone yells at you to “WATCH OUT!” – you can’t hear them.

Also, one of the drawbacks of complexity is that it makes things really hard to fix.  My 1970 Datsun pickup was easy to fix, even for a non-mechanic like myself.  If something broke, you could see what it was and you could probably fix it with a used guitar string.  If a $30,000 Lexus breaks it becomes instantly useless to the owner.  There is nothing to be done but call the magician, I mean mechanic, and pay him a lot of money to make it work again.

Technology can be great.  Technology can be fun.  Technology can be a stupid idea.  You can list your favorite complicated piece of garbage here___________.

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5 responses to “Technology Is Not Evil (But, It’s Dangerous)

  1. Might want to read a few books written by a French guy named Jacques Ellul. He’s been studying the effects of technology on society for a few decades. Interesting stuff there. Not that easy to read (especially in French). The equivalent of an Ivan Illich, if you see what I mean, but with a more focused analysis.

    • Thank you Greg,

      Ellul? Even his last name is hard to read. How would you pronounce that? I will keep an eye out for his books.

      I’m surprised by just how many of us feel no love toward our technological devices. The normal attitude of normal people seems to be that technology is something we must put up with. I think part of the problem may be that too many of the devices we use every day were invented by people who wanted to make a product they could sell to the masses – and not something they could use themselves.

      My favorite inventions are those that people come up with because they wanted one. That is why so many of the freeware and shareware programs out there are so simple and good. They were written by people who actually had a need for the programs they created. We get so tired of products that have “features.” Real tools and useful things don’t have “features.”

      – M. Ragazzo
      P.S. I haven’t read enough books by Frenchmen. Though, my favorite novel of all time is French (Les Miserables.)

  2. I’ll second the dishwasher….still don’t use ’em.

    I have a harder time with things like computers (and all their multiplying children). While I tend to come reluctantly to new technology, it seems that dependency grows with or without my participation. Some things are pretty hard to opt out from, even when their associated complexity and mixed blessings might otherwise warn us off.

    HT

  3. Well done, Mr. Maladroit Fellow. GK has gone to fundamentals on this one. Even on the purely natural order the end of human nature is happiness. Properly understood, it is the measure of prudential acts. Be happy, swing that axe.

    The first techno device that comes to mind that does not meet the measure is the automatic dishwasher. Here are a few of the evils associated with it:

    1.. It’s noisy.
    2. It’s expensive.
    3. It takes up space that could be used for wine storage.
    4. It is the proximate cause of arguments about the best way to load it. Or the wrong way to load it.
    5. It breaks.
    6. It doesn’t really scrub off baked on gunk.

    Does it save time? Arguable. Even so, I prefer to be one with scrubby sponges and dirty dishes than to cooperate with a noisy, soulless beast of a dishwashing machine.

  4. areasonablelife

    MR:

    Thanks for that. Yes, I’m sure we can all think of quite a few.

    …in fact, if you get a chance, check out the following movie clip, which sort of sums up how we all feel about techology, at least some of the time.

    I’ll see if I can’t think of some to add to your list.

    HT

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