Technology – Who Needs It?


 Technology , that’s what got us all into this mess isn’t it? The internal combustion engine, jet propulsion, mechanized farming, power stations, pesticides, industrial pollution; the list goes on, and on. And now we’re due to pay the price with both global warming and oil depletion looming as a result of squandering the earth’s resources to feed our addiction to  technology .

Surely, since  technology  is so clearly to blame, we should strive to roll back the tide and oppose further so-called technological progress?

Do I hear any takers for this proposition? A return to a golden age, lit by candles at night and warmed by the crackle of logs in countless hearths; a renaissance of home grown crops, chickens in the yard and beating your clothes on a rock down by the river just like you see in the movies?

Oh I’m sure there are some diehard romantics who buy into the self sufficiency fantasy, but the really inconvenient truth is that if we all set about burning logs to boil lentils and heat our fashionable Yurts we would deforest the place within a month; without modern pesticides and medicines we would be lucky to escape the first year without calamity on the scale of the Great Irish Potato Famine and we could pretty soon reduce life expectancy to levels last seen in the 16th Century (or modern Zimbabwe if you prefer). As for “natural transport”, this was quite commonplace at the beginning of the 20th Century and the streets were ankle deep in horse dung.

So back to the cold shower of reality. Yes,  technology  has laid at our door responsibility for global warming and depletion of precious natural resources; but  technology  is also our only realistic hope of making amends and crafting a world we might not feel deservedly ashamed to pass on to our children.

So what exactly has  technology  ever done for us? Well, there’s warm homes and lighting at night; better and more plentiful food and refrigeration to keep it from rotting; ability to routinely travel distances once considered inconceivable; and communication, both mass communication and personal.

Identifying the cost incurred by heat, light and power for domestic appliances is easy. Electricity. This in almost all cases currently comes from power stations that burn oil, gas, or coal (the contribution from nuclear power is still almost negligible).

Travel is even easier: essentially set fire to some form of oil. Trains, planes, buses, boats, automobiles, you name it; they all use engines that burn hydrocarbons.

Communication (other than that brought about by physical travel) is however unlike the other examples and not a paid up member of the heinous Axis of Energy. Yes, some amount of oil has been used to transmit the electronic bits this article is actually made of, and some more went into the plastic device you’re reading it on and more still is being burned now to power said device. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s actually a pretty trivial amount, even when we all do it.

Anyway, the question we need to ask is: do we want, or can we even afford, to be without any of these benefits that  technology  has brought us? With the exception of modern travel, the answer is most likely to be a clear no.

Without warmth, light and food we may as well pack it all in right now and collectively slope off to back to scratching out the short, nasty and brutish existence our forebears worked so hard to spare us. But the thing is this; it’s not necessary to trash the planet just to supply the basics. Every day a big orange thing appears in the sky and throws more heat and light at us than we know what to do with. Spot the key phrase? “know what to do with”.

 Technology  (the forbidden T word) for utilising and storing sunlight in the form of hot water and electricity already exists. Solar lighting has been around for quite a few years, and with economic conditions starting to swing decisively in favour of “renewable energy” solutions, it is a  technology  that is being rapidly developed and deployed into ever more homes.

Within just a few years before the economic pull of solar  technology  and the push of rocketing oil prices will persuade a majority of households to switch to supplying their own domestic power needs. In the end money always talks and by the time the payback period to free electricity falls below 3 years the slow shuffle towards renewable energy will have become a stampede.

Which means that  technology , admit it now, will have helped soak up a significant part of the problem and you can pour yourself a nice cold beer and carry on reading this article; snug, well fed and with a clearer conscience about the electricity you’re using. Which brings us to communication.

You’re reading this article, one among many others no doubt, and I will read what other people have to say about things and between us all we end up with a vast melting pot of ideas and ever shifting consensus. It may or may not have occurred to you for example that LED home lighting provides a means to light your home at a fraction of the existing cost in terms of electricity consumption, but you certainly know about it now and may takes steps to find out more and even install some.

Why wait for the lumbering bureaucracies of governments to form committees, draft turgid reports and pander to special interest lobbies?. Anyone living in a building to which they can attach solar panels and install low energy products can unilaterally take themselves “off-grid”. And they can exchange ideas, experiences and advice with millions of others who might then also feel sufficiently informed and confident to follow suit. The best thing about this though is that it is intrinsically scalable. There is zero requirement to build new infrastructure capable of handling millions of homes – we each take responsibility for our own electricity supply and usage.

Of course this all very well for anything normally powered by electricity, but for transport it’s like trying to drive home a nail with a screwdriver. Yes, there are a few electric cars being made, but not enough quickly enough and the existing infrastructure is predicated around gas stations and the distance an automobile can travel before it needs refuelling. And I don’t see a queue forming for the electric aeroplane.

But why do we even need to do all this travelling? You and I don’t need to meet face to face for me to express my views on  technology . Much hogwash is uttered about how business relationships require physical contact, yet my own experience flatly contradicts this and I suspect I may not be alone. I don’t even need to go to an office to do what I do to earn a crust; anyplace with an internet connection is fine, like my home for example.

What about shopping for food and other items? I do it online. It’s more convenient, there’s considerably more choice at my fingertips than even the most largest shopping malls, it’s easier to compare price and service levels, it’s typically cheaper (since the goods are shipped from a warehouse not a fancy store that has to pay staff) and best of all it’s the most fuel efficient solution.

One large courier or supermarket van can deliver to scores of customers on a single delivery run. Put another way, that’s scores of customers who left their automobiles in the driveway rather than round trip to go pick stuff up themselves. And the reason I and millions like me can do this?  Technology . The same one you’re using to read this.

 Technology  is one of our defining characteristics as humans. It can be a blessing or a curse; a path to salvation or a road to damnation; a force for good flawed by an ever present capacity for malice and harm, just like us in fact. If we roll back the technological progress of the last decades, centuries or how ever far you like, then we will simply add the difficulties of that time to those of our own making.

There never was a golden age. Every generation has faced and tried to resolve its own issues. Not infrequently the solutions caused their own set of issues. But that’s always the job facing the incumbents; to fix the problems in front of them, not to whine about history.  Technology  is simply the application of ideas to solve problems. Who needs it? We do, now more than ever before.

Source by Megan S Jones

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