Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Can technology save us?

I've an essay in the latest New Philosopher magazine: 'Can technology save us?'

Remember when the internet and world-wide-web were doing to democratise things? THE RHIZOME IS COMING TO SAVE US.

I'm looking into the nature of our tools, and the dubious belief that they necessarily make life better. A sample:
Technology is about problem-solving. As Aristotle revealed in his study of techne, or craft, its rationality is instrumental. Technology realises possibilities which would not otherwise be, and it does so reliably—or is supposed to. It is a specific means to specific ends. 
But it is na├»ve to believe that technological innovation always embodies the ends we desire, or will achieve only those ends. Most obviously, engineers and scientists do not always make objects because they care about the outcomes. David Hume noted in his Treatise of Human Nature that experts sometimes labour because they enjoy their work, not because they esteem the welfare of their community.  
This is no attack on so-called ‘blue sky’ research, which is vital to the enrichment of knowledge. What’s dubious is the belief that widgets exist because they are helpful—sometimes their genesis is curiosity. 
More often, other motives drive novelty. The businesses that fund and hype technology often have very different ends to those of the buyers and users. For example, skin creams are marketed as innovative rejuvenating agents: making older skin younger, with cutting-edge medical research on enzymes, cellular replenishment, and so on. There is no evidence that they can achieve this, despite advertising ‘clinically proven’ results. They are also helping to create the problem itself: heightened anxiety over ageing, and the manic celebration of youth. 

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