Do humans dream of electric sheep, too?

Our understanding of what technology is might be a bit skewed. James McCoull addresses all technophobes out there

22nd February 2016

Let’s get one thing straight: technology is inescapable. Sorry technophobes, but even if you bin your phone and retire to the Rockies to live in tune with nature, chances are, at some point you’re going to need to start a fire to keep warm and the moment you do, surprise surprise, you’ll be using technology.

It’s not always a matter of microchips and vacuum tubes: technology is a table, a piece of clothing, a ruler, a cup. It’s the core concept behind the things we do, not just to make great strides towards a better world, but to simply get by every day. So how reliant are humans on technology? Well as a matter of fact, it’s the only thing that makes us human.

Some other animals can use tools, sure, but it’s the way humans shape the world and objects around them to fit them - rather than adapting to the world, as other animals do – that makes us what we are. We can’t survive in the cold, so we cover up our skin with something better suited; we can’t eat raw meat and certain kinds of plants, so we cook and change them until we can; we can’t share the complex ideas our brains constantly produce by gesturing and grunting, so we build sentences out of words built out of letters and so on.

Technology is the core concept behind the things we do, not just to make great strides towards a better world, but to simply get by every day... it’s the only thing that makes us human

In a more modern sense, technology certainly appears predominant. Chances are you’ll check your phone before you’ve finished reading this article, and you’d be hard pressed to not have a screen within eyesight in any given city centre. This can be scary, from a certain perspective, and there are plenty out there who are worried that technology is using us just as much as we’re using it. Is that worry justifiable? Maybe, but at the end of the day it’s still nothing new.

Technology has been used to subdue, exploit and kill people ever since our primordial ancestors discovered you could swing a rock much more effectively by fastening it to a stick. Responsibility lies, and always has lain, with the person using the technology; it’s nothing more than a means to an end, and those ends are invariably the product of wholly human intentions.

Certainly there are things to fear. The world has lived in the looming shadow of nuclear armageddon for the last seventy years, and more recently, military drones have presented troubling possibilities of human deaths at the hands of ever-more efficient killing machines. But ultimately death on a massive scale has never been hard for humans to achieve. Conversely, we’re now living longer, healthier lives than ever, even by the standards of just a hundred or even fifty years ago. We’ve abolished entire strains of diseases that once scourged whole continents with nothing more than a tiny jab for toddlers. We’ve visited our nearest celestial neighbour, with a permanent space outpost in orbit around the Earth at this very moment. We’ve mastered global communication on a scale that was unprecedented even in the nineties, with devices capable of accessing an international web of data that are small enough to fit in our pockets and powerful enough to do that and a million other things.

That’s a small part of the reason I scoff at technophobes, and a big part of the reason I can’t be anything other than hopeful for a future built on the back of technology. Science fiction dreams of these worlds, and mere decades later we get to live in them. Sure, there are bleak things ahead – the world is still suffering irreparable ecological damage and modern warfare mutates into something only more horrifying every day – but frankly bleak things are going to happen anyway. The real miracles, the wonders of technology, will never come to fruition if held back by naysayers that believe in cultural stagnation in the vain hope of preventing some kind of machine apocalypse.

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