Comment: High tech depends on us

Technology is neutral. How we use it depends on us.

From the wheel to the plow, right through to vaccines and the silicon chip, its use has always disrupted the pattern of human life. And most of us are thankful for that, even if we have misgivings over its latest incarnations.

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Of course, technology has an impact on people. But more importantly, it is the will and vision of those people that shape the technology we have. Sadly, in an age of disengaged narcissism and pessimism, people come both to constrain its development and to fear its effects.

So when Apple founder Steve Jobs passed away, some wondered how much more he might have achieved in a more ambitious age. His devices were expressions of our introspective times, a means by which people could update their status and reveal their thoughts, even the pettiest ones.

Alternatively, some claim that technology is fundamentally reshaping your brain, pointing to the work of those who look for confirmation of this. But science offers no such certainties. And this downplays the social and cultural forces that shape us, as well as our moral responsibility.

Those who criticize technology are rarely averse to using it themselves and benefit, often unwittingly, from its multifarious forms. They hold a low view of others and their ability to balance the benefits it offers, assuming them all weak and prone to technological determinism.

Certainly, most people have the strength to moderate and control a habit. We do not just surf the Internet like mindless machines but as purposeful beings. A study of human behaviour can’t reduce life to mere signals and impulses.

But rather than applying caution and handing authority to supposed experts and regulators, we should be demanding far more from our technologists, and challenging the culture of low expectations in government and elsewhere that constrain them and our imagination.

Social media is only one aspect of technology, and possibly its most limited and limiting one. Used to control production, rather than to flatter consumption, technology and information technology have liberated the vast majority of humanity from a life of drudgery and toil.

Technology is one of the highest expressions of the human spirit — to move, to fly and to reject the vagaries and limitations of nature.

Sadly, the continued exploration of our universe, the freedoms and enlightenment this might bring will be postponed if we view it as dangerous.

Bill Durodié is head of the conflict analysis and management program in the School of Humanitarian Studies at Royal Roads University. He has an international reputation in the fields of risk analysis and risk communication, as they relate to a range of contemporary conflicts.

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