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Technology: Friend or Foe?

May 3, 2015
Pyramid Technology is everywhere in our lives.

It’s been that way for hundreds–make thousands–of years.

Indeed, some of the biggest technological inventions of the past were earthshaking, changing society, the nature of work and improving the lives of people.

Take a moment to think about what some of these inventions were? Okay, go back at least a few decades. And, no, former Vice President Al Gore did NOT invent the Internet,

We tend to think in the present, or at least the recent present. However, take a look at the randomly produced list of technological inventions dating back 5,000 years. In short, technology is not a modern phenomenon.

Radios Steam turbine–1884

Cement–1st-millennium BC



Sanitation systems–mid 1800s



Electricity–late 1800s

The Pill–1960


The lever–3rd millennium BC (thanks to the Egyptians)

There are many, many more examples of technology inventions over the past several thousand years. Unfortunately, people tend to think of technology breakthroughs in a post-1750 Industrial Revolution context. The Egyptians, it should be noted, were smart cookies. So, too, were the Arabs who invented algebra and advanced trigonometry, the Greeks who invented the much-replicated symmetrical column architecture (America loves it) or the Persians who figured out how to store ice in the middle of the desert.

Hydro Of course, some much more recent inventions, such as nuclear fission (1939) and oil drilling (1859) elicit emotive responses from some people. Nuclear fusion (don’t confuse it with the fission variety) offers huge potential in the future.

The point is, technology marches on, and for the most part it has benefitted human kind.

While technology often underlies today’s conversations and media reporting, one can argue that much of this chatter is oriented towards consumer technologies (read that as electronics) and social media.

How many people want to engage in a discussion on some of the recent breakthroughs in nuclear fusion technology and the promise it holds for clean and safe energy production?

How about sustainable technologies used in developing countries aimed at improving the lives of the world’s most impoverished?

No, we’d prefer to either show off our most recent smart phone acquisition, or complain about the problems we’re having with our telecom provider, or trying to figure out how to stream or download programs and movies.

Smart Phones Society can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re getting lost in the weeds when it comes to technology and its bigger picture developments. We’re overly focusing on what could be called the urgent (to borrow from the late Stephen Covey) instead of the important.

How many of you have a smart phone?

How many sleep with it by their bed?

How many check it before going to bed and again first thing in the morning?

Is this urgent or important?

You may or may not share these views; but what’s important is to step back and look at the bigger picture of what technology offers to society and the world.

One of the most emotive current topics is genetically modified (GMO) food. Yet if you read from a broader perspective GMO agriculture has big potential for developing countries. But from a Western view, where GMO foods are banned in Europe, the topic produces emotional reaction from many people.

Is technology a friend or foe?

Take a moment to share your thoughts.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

– Albert Einstein

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2015 4:09 pm

    I’d say… it’s neither. Technology (can we just just call it ‘tools’) has always been with us. When the first flint arrowhead was chipped into shape, that was a technological breakthrough. Then it was used to more successfully acquire food – and it was great! Then someone else used it to kill a person – and it was terrible, or great, depending upon whom that person was.

    As you rightly point out, the progress of technology has always been part of the human experience. I would suggest that this progress has been almost always to the benefit of the species. Society went through the same handwringing when automobiles began to displace horses in large numbers. But the mobility provided by mechanical conveyances has been wildly good for commerce and health (and might potentially lead to climate change that wipes out our species – time will tell).

    My position is this: I don’t think we can worry about technology from a good v bad perspective. It exists. It is not going away. It is not going to advance at a slower pace than it is right now. If the ability exists to create, implement, and productize a new technology – someone, somewhere is going to do it.

    Technology (tools) can be used to create new medical treatments or it can be used to kill the ‘enemy’ in greater numbers. Does that make our tools good or bad?

    Evidence suggests that it was our ability to cook our food by harnessing fire (new technology – yeah!) that allowed our species to develop big brains so that we could debate the relative merits of technology.

    • May 4, 2015 4:16 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Geoff, and adding to the conversation. Great points. Indeed, the last one says it all. In today’s society, we forget the disruptions that occurred at numerous points along the technology continuum over a long period of time. Call it our collective unwillingness to better understand history and to step back occasionally and realize how much better we have it than our ancestors.

  2. May 4, 2015 1:15 am

    Interesting points, Lynne. Yes, it seems that new technologies, from the past to the present, often spark a deluge of interest and adoption by the public. In addition to the need for balance, as you note, I’d add the importance of perspective and placing the use of a particular technology in the appropriate context. Thanks for stopping by and sharing a comment.

  3. May 4, 2015 1:02 am

    I think the key here is about BALANCE. Anything new and fun we jump in and do to excess. When I first discovered YouTube, I spent three weeks watching all the old musical groups from my childhood. Any new technology needs to be mastered to be useful, and to master things we sometimes NEED to do them to excess. Then at some point we find that the excess reaches a point where our lives feel out of balance, and the use becomes detrimental. We might try cutting back, or doing without for a time, then coming back and establishing the level which works in our lives.

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