As I was doing research for my assignment, I came across an interesting article on the internet. It said that technology only has positive effects on the society. The article went on to examine each technology in detail. The first one mentioned was nuclear technology. The author praised nuclear technology and even ventured to say that the deadly nuclear warfare research funded by the US is the major force behind keeping a third World War at bay. I was flabbergasted. Why did such a creative outlook not cross my mind? I was unsure of whether to laugh or cry at such frivolity. This sparked up my curiosity to know what other readers think of this view. Fortunately, almost 99 per cent of the commenters did not agree with the author. We can still put our best hopes in humanity.

Meanwhile, I also interviewed a couple of “common people” as part of my research. These are people who are nearly at the lowest level of the development hierarchy. People who pay the most and benefit the least. What is surprising (and rather alarming) is that they often don’t know this basic fact. When asked if she likes all the development going on around her, Sujatha, a sweeper and cleaner based in our university town, didn’t have to think twice before replying in the positive. She considers it a boon to have technology like the TV and refrigerator at home that makes life easier. Then I asked her if she in support of the changes like more and more trees and fields being replaced by university buildings and pubs, the answer was a flat “No”. Same question asked in two ways, but with a different answer in each case. Another example is from a 15 year old girl, Jayasree, who is the daughter of a dhobi (washerwoman). She loves to draw and play games on the computer. She wants the advancement of technology like washing machines because they make her family’s work easier and faster. But the same washing machines when installed in the university hostels become a blow to their livelihood.

These are clear examples of how dangerously often we let things into our lives that we would have detested, had they lacked all the lure of the shiny, fragile shell of positivity covering them. If you are tempted to attribute this tendency to the “uneducated lower class”, hold on a second. This is a phenomenon that has affected the whole modernity-obsessed world of ours for a while. Just think about this, don’t we all know that all the research and development going on in the field of nuclear warfare, genetic engineering, automobile industry, etc. have more negative implications than there are positive effects? Still most of us diligently pay our taxes so that our governments can continue their noble efforts, apparently for our betterment. We rejoice in each new development. We are thrilled at each successful nuclear test conducted. We celebrate the birth of each deadly missile. What could be more perverse?

I’m not trying to say that technological development is all negative. It surely has contributed a lot to the society. Without it we would never have had such comforts and experiences as we enjoy today. We would still have been hunting around for food, sleeping in caves and under trees, constantly worried about survival. But there is something that should be acknowledged. Technology has irreversibly changed the world, for better or for worse. Also, the same technology can result in positive or negative outcome depending on who controls it and how. One of the best examples from history is how dynamite, originally invented for the safety of mineworkers, ultimately found use in violence. The Wright brothers would have never imagined that their invention would be used as an instrument for numerous air raids and two of the worst bombings of history. This is what happens with every technology. The true reason for its invention is no longer valid once it is in the mainstream human life. After that, it’s not human need controlling technology, but technology controlling human choices. And that is the point at which it becomes dangerous.

As James Burke told, “the moment man first picked up a stone or a branch to use as a tool, he altered irrevocably the balance between him and his environment. From this point on, the way in which the world around him changed was different. It was no longer regular or predictable. New objects appeared that were not recognizable as a mutation of something that had existed before, and as each one emerged it altered the environment not for a season but for ever. While the number of these tools remained small, their effect took a long time to spread and to cause change. But as they increased, so did their effects: the more the tools, the faster the rate of change.” So, the key is to know when and where to impose control over the blinding speed of technological advancement. As technological change is irreversible, it will be foolishness to try to undo all the changes already occurred. Hence, it is wise to be cautious with the future developments before it’s too late.

The present context tempts me to amend an age old proverb as: “Technology is a good servant but a bad master.”

Advertisements