Albert Einstein once said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Indeed, today we are part of a society where our very existence depends on science and technology. Could this possibly be a prescription for disaster, where our own smartness could be our downfall? Could the combustible mixture of misguided ‘intelligence’ and power blow up in our faces?
Western society has accepted a technological imperative, making it not merely our duty to foster invention and constantly create technological novelties, but equally our duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are there, without consideration to consequence. In the balancing act between culture and technology, cultural evolution seems to be lagging behind technological innovation. Theoretically, technology is the human solution to meeting needs, and as these needs change, new technologies supplement old ones – and inevitably change the cultures which spawned them. However, the disparate rate of cultural vs. technological evolution hint at consequences which are sure to cloud the future of the human race. We need to change the historical blueprint and accept our responsibility for the world we want to live in tomorrow, and take notice of the fact that presently we are starting to shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot.
According to scholars, it is the nature of human interaction, their relationship with the environment, and the immediate and long-term trajectory of these interactions as influenced by inherited knowledge, lifestyle and customs, which is what forms a culture, and makes it adapt to the progress within and around it. Unfortunately, technological innovation is increasing human mastery over and rampant exploitation of resources and sources of energy.
After humans established themselves at the top of the food chain, focus shifted from survival to fulfilling luxurious wants. Technology focused on satisfying these new ‘secondary needs’, resulting in technological progress becoming a catalyst for a classed society. It is not by chance that today the global maps of illiteracy and poverty so nearly coincide.
Each culture develops technologies to meet what it perceives as it’s ‘needs’ and the impact of these technologies supercedes their utility. Man has wants, some of which he likes to regard as ‘needs’. He has basic physiological needs for food and drink. He has other elementary needs for clothing and shelter. Finally he has, as it were, ‘high standard’ wants, like reading, listening to music, travelling, and amusing himself. It seems that individual circumstances determine what technologies are needed and developed, and ‘culture’ dictates how technologies are used, and therefore residual impact.
A paradox has emerged however, showing innovation is often accompanied with a sort of tail slap. Put differently, in moving one step forward we tend to take two steps backwards – a type of ‘technology regression’. Think for a second of the catch 22 of power and industry vs greenhouse gasses and global warming (and dimming). And there are hundreds and thousands of similar examples happening every day… All with consequences…
Clearly there is a definite recurring trend of technology regression. Perhaps it’s a sign that progress should be a combination of the best of the old with the best of the new. Perhaps indicative of the fact that modern innovation should be less about the reinvention of the wheel than the repurposing of it.
Whether we regress in our progression or progress because we regress, what is fact is that we seem to be in a constant state of pulling and pushing – turning the same corners in a cycle that seems never ending. Whether we will ever end it, is another question, but for now, all we need to do is concentrate on not getting so clever that we find ourselves extinct. As a society, we need to ensure that we adapt to whatever we create, but not at the cost of each other – even if it doesn’t always look like progress.