Chapter 1 – Fast technologization and its basic effects
“The spread of civilization may be likened to a fire;
first, a feeble spark, next a flickering flame, then a
mighty blaze, ever increasing in speed and power.”
― Nikola Tesla
Our species’ age-old developmental rhythms—rooted in biological evolution—are being replaced by those of technology’s speedy progress. This is not to suggest that the pace of biological evolution has always been the same or that it is necessarily a harmonious one. But the degree to which we allow technology to determine the rhythms we live by makes us increasingly prone to stumbling over our own feet. Like a rapid rollercoaster ride, technology’s evolutionary speed dazzles us and leaves us breathless, astonished, and self-absorbed, and in doing so obscures its nature and our relationship with it.
The ability of flight can serve as an example. Biology required about 3.3 billion years to evolve flight from the first cells to the first flights of insects. Technology gained that ability in only about 2.5 million years—from the first stone tools to the flights of the first hot-air balloons. We went from simple wooden structures allowing us to glide through air for very short distances to high-tech-material-saturated, computerized, sensor-studded and remotely operated flying machines with a global reach in a little less than a hundred years. Compared to biological evolution—and particularly since the Industrial Revolution—technological evolution is very quickly gaining abilities.
Even though technology has been developing at an increasingly fast pace, the developmental steps are still slow enough to make us believe that the essential technology-related challenges we face come from individual technologies and not from the nature of the development, that is, from our technology culture itself. Our perception of the exact same chain of events would be much different had we gone from steam boiler explosions to nuclear accidents within a year, or from using hot-air balloons for aerial bombings to drone attacks in a month, or from simple mechanical prostheses to those that directly link machine and biology within a week. The chorus of effects and our technology culture’s breakneck speed would be much better noticeable.
Our early ancestors were not aware of technological momentum. The speed of technological improvement was immensely slower than today and, with limited means of record keeping, our ancestors’ view into the past was equally limited. Even not too long ago, the technological world into which one was born was more or less the same as that into which one’s parents and grandparents had been born. And that world was the same, technologically, as the world in which oneself, one’s children, and one’s grandchildren would eventually die.
Yet now we live in radically different times of technological acceleration. Our technological capabilities are changing not just from one generation to the next, but several times within one human life span. Even though this enormous acceleration is not occurring as fast as in the fictitious examples described above, it has nevertheless quickly torn us out of the realm of slow technological development. In having done so, it offers us a kind of look-out, a platform from which we can notice, observe, and analyze the developments we are unleashing. The following diagram depicts this radical change in overview.
The significantly accelerated pace of our technologization makes it easier to notice the broad brush strokes of the dynamics we are setting into motion, which include:
- We are infusing our lives with ever more technology.
- Technological functionality and efficiency influence more of our views/decisions.
- Ever more of our time, energy, and attention are devoted to technology.
- Our dependency on our technologies is increasing.
- Technology’s degree of complexity and its capabilities are increasing.
- A growing independence of our technologies from (direct) human control.
- We are manipulating on increasingly minute levels (materials and genes).
- Technology and biology are gradually being merged with each other.
As the amount of technology in our lives increases and its capabilities grow, so do the advantages and disadvantages of technology increase as well. While it is very important to assess the positive and negative effects of a technology, the primary danger to core human traits, to choice and freedom mostly comes from the increasing amount of technology to which we are exposing ourselves, rather than from a particular negative effect.
One might liken this to the enjoyment of wine. Regardless of a consumer’s subjective tastes or a specific wine’s qualitative advantages, drinking too much wine has objective consequences. Intensifying technologization also has key effects beyond the advantages or disadvantages of a specific technology. For instance:
- The more time, energy, and attention we devote to technology, the less time, energy, and attention we have for all things that are not technology.
- This overly intense focus on technology narrows the variety of our human essence. That is because we can only keep an aspect of our essence alive if we devote some of our time, energy, and attention to it.
- The more we invite technology into our lives, the more its developmental logic and dynamics will influence our human ways. We will, therefore, become more immersed in, determined and dominated by technology.
If we do not want this dissolution of our essence and of our choice and freedom, we must look beyond the pros and cons of particular technologies. We must instead pay much better attention to the workings of the technological momentum and how it is in the process of replacing ever more of our human attributes with its own.