I’ve been tackling the subject of authority (who or what you trust when seeking the answer to a question) and knowledge (a working, true data set) for a while now. I haven’t really gone into ethics because it’s a sticky one. I’m going to try it now, in a couple of articles.

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Promethesus brings fire to mankind, a Heinrich Fueger painting circa 1817. The first inventor!I think it’s painfully apparent to everyone by now that technology itself is not a good thing.

Technology is merely a tool. Really, that’s all. Technology is a tool that can be used for good or bad. In the future, technology might gain sentience and become much more than a tool, but that’s outside the scope of this entry because… well… arguing something that may or may not come true is hard work. And I’m not a sci-fi author.

There’s an old, trite argument, but it illustrates my point: guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Technology is the same thing, but because inventions are new and shiny, people are mostly blind to its nefarious uses; it lacks the evil connotations of the gun that we’ve developed over hundreds of years. When the gun was first invented it wasn’t ‘bad’ either — just new, and very cool.

Technology — the idea of new inventions, modifications, enhancements – really is the same thing as the humble gun. I mean, if you want proof, a gun is technology. Weaponry is one of the longest chains of technological development in history! And it’s not abating either… it has a long way to go. I’m sure you’re aware of the tax money that goes into ‘defence’. Weapon technology has been the deciding factor of major wars and the continuation of empires and dynasties — having advanced weapons is (sadly?) probably the pinnacle of any given modern civilisation.

But because guns (and canons and muskets and rifles and…) have killed huge swathes of the population, does that make technology bad?

There are literally millions (billions?) of people that would say guns and weapons are Bad Things. They kill people, ergo… bad. Before guns, we had swords, spears, slings — were they also bad?

How about fire? Was Prometheus, the lad that stole fire from the Gods, the greatest war criminal of all time? Without fire, almost everything you see today wouldn’t exist. Chemical energy is the end of that technology chain, and we frickin’ worship chemical energy.

That’s the thing — without fire, that desk in front of you wouldn’t exist. That’s how technology worksit’s omnipotent and omnipresent. You can’t staunch the flow of one technology and expect to carry on living the life you live.

Without fire, we would have burnt out [hah -- frozen to death more likely] and gone extinct a long time ago. Without spears, we would’ve starved. Without guns we would’ve perished in wars.

You see how I keep using the word ‘we’? It’s a selfish thing, eh? Man makes fire because he doesn’t want to freeze. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Man fashions a spear because without it, he uses more energy hunting than he gains from the animal’s flesh. Man crafts a gun because it lets him kill — or threaten — at range, without putting himself at risk. SELFISH!

But what’s the other option? No technology? No fire? No human race? Just step to the side and make way for another master species? How on earth are we ever going to agree to that? No, we can’t stop progressing — that’s one thing we can’t do. We might nuke ourself in the process, like so many civilisations before us, but it’s better than standing still, stagnating, dying.

We can agree then that technology isn’t a good thing itself, but something so intrinsic to human survival that we can’t imagine life without it, without tools. But as always, when anything involves humans, it’s more complicated than that.

With technology we create both solutions and problems. One caveman uses fire to cook his food while another uses it to brand dissident villagers. You keep a gun in the house to dissuade burglars, I keep a gun to shoot Negroes. While one scientist is planning clean, sustained energy from nuclear fission, another is working under the duress of an evil mastermind that wants to nuke us to smithereens.

Thus there are some that think technology has lowered our quality of life — that technology is a bad thing — though that’s impossible if you take ‘technology’ to mean any and every tool we’ve ever fashioned. So they probably mean ‘recent technology’ — the atomic bomb, the Internet, sports cars, Facebook, etc.

And maybe they have a point. You’d never think of a telephone as a bad thing, right? But the Internet? Maybe. Fire’s a good thing — but weapons of mass destruction? Probably not. They’re both advancements on the same technological line

It’s too unknown. The rules are unknown, the lines are blurred. There have been failed technologies in the past

American Pie... donut
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Sebastian

I am a tall, hairy, British writer who blogs about technology, photography, travel, and whatever else catches my eye.

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