Techno Utopianism

Techno Utopia. It is the place where technology has progressed so far that it has solved all our problems. There is no more hunger, thirst, cancer or want. Our lives are vastly better, stress free, marked by copious amounts of leisure. We've overcome the the daily grind. Isn't it great? Ahhhh sit back. Relax. 

It's a lovely vision, and every generation has that vision for the next. If machines do the work man won't have to, and we can have more leisure time. Every generation machines do more of the work, yet here we are still working a little less than before, but not a lot. So there is an obvious mismatch. It seems obvious to the current generation that if we make more efficient technology we will need to work less to produce the same amount of goods, but with each generation the drive to produce more is stronger than the drive to have more leisure time. Clearly technology doesn't track leisure. If you want to tell me it does because I get to watch DVDs on my home entertainment system, well my grandparents used their leisure time to go for walks under a starlit night sky. Are we really better off?

Techno Utopianism seems to be premised on the idea that technology will be used for good. Uber is the disruptive technology that will save us from the nasty taxi operators, or even render personal car ownership obsolete? But does it benefit the drivers? How does it vet drivers to ensure they are qualified to safely transport passengers? Is Uber the benevolent dictator of transport we need? Bitcoin, a deflationary currency that is uncontrolled, and biases early adopters to become wealthy. Really that good? Anonymous online currency? Good for drug and weapon traffickers, but optimists who promote the technology only see positive things coming out of it. People have a wealth of information at their fingertips, but search engines mercilessly deliver them to places that coddle their own beliefs and ideology. It's as if we revolutionized everything except ourselves.

Enough with the examples already! Are we doomed to invent new ways to make ourselves miserable? How do we measure the outcome of a new technology. It seems to me that many new technologies have a golden window. That is the time in which the new technology is praised and acts in a positive way. It is the time before someone finds a way to exploit it. It's like software. Each new release works securely until someone finds a way to exploit its flaws. The mistake that we shouldn't make is to look at this initial period of techno-benevolence and draw conclusions purely from that. 

But that is probably not even the most important issue, which is that beyond basic needs, technology has almost no effect. To people of the early 20th century, it gave them a better way to murder each other in masses. The techno utopia was more like a dystopian nightmare, culminating in the most vicious and unforgiving weapon ever deployed: the nuclear bomb. 

You can't blame technology however. The same people that praise technology for solving our social problems, are the kinds of people that place blame on technology for creating social problems. The truth as I see it is vastly simpler. Technology doesn't create the problem, and it won't solve it. If society was ready for more leisure time, we could have had it by now. If society was more interested in curing cancer than smart bombs we would have probably been some distance further in combating the disease.  Still, I see many people posting about technology as if it is a panacea. If only we moved a little further into the future, our social problems will be solved! Technology doesn't do that, social movement and activism does. Spanish inquisitors would have used the internet as a tool of oppression, so the vision of the internet as a great tool of social revolutions is misguided. 


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