Technology: Boon or Bane? by Joyce W. Miller [Forwarded]

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Just as flood-swollen currents carve new paths for a river, so technology has changed the course of our culture. If our culture includes moral and ethical issues and technology has changed our culture, then technology has changed our moral and ethical issues. As these raging waters changed the landscape of our lives, it has changed the ways we process the concepts of good and bad. Have all of those changes been for the good of society? Or have some of them created even more difficult moral and ethical questions? I come from a time when technology was called "progress" and it was considered heretical to doubt its benefits. We tend to forget the years before antibiotics when people died from pneumonia and infections. We take for granted the warnings about kidney failure, liver damage and replacement therapy for intestinal flora that accompany today's "bigger and better" medications. The terror felt by parents, in the days prior to polio vaccines, has been forgotten. The days are past when a car owner could get a manual from the library, some parts from Pep Boys and fix his own car. Now the computerized automobile requires a trip to the dealer for parts as well as labor billed at $50 or $60 an hour! Research papers required a dictionary, an encyclopedia and a trip to the card catalog at the library instead of a computer capable of web-browsing. Referring to research on the Internet, David Rothenberg states: "Search engines . . . are closer to slot machines than library catalogues . . . You may get 234,468 supposed references . . . one in a thousand may help you." He describes this as "the hunt-and-peck method of writing a paper" (A44).

I do not subscribe to the cynicism of Swiss playwright Max Frisch who is quoted as saying that "technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it" (qtd. in Gup, A52). In common with many of my sources, literary and personal, I believe we must find a way to make technology our servant rather than our master. There are a myriad of ways in which technology has changed our lives. I will discuss just a few: biological/medical; environmental; political and educational.

In his Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman traces the evolution of technology from a system of support to a monstrous tyranny that overshadows our lives from birth to death. In the fields of medical technology, politics, religion and the media, he deplores the loss of humanity, sacrificed to the techniques of information storage, retrieval and dissemination (115-117).

For many, the "wake-up call" regarding the dangers of uncontrolled technology came from reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Her book encouraged the growth of environmental groups which succeeded in outlawing the use of DDT. Lobbyists have derailed efforts to change, by law, the methods of chemical fertilization and the use of pesticides. These methods are fouling our rivers and streams and killing the Everglades. The miracles of chemical technology in defeating disease does not justify its use in these ways nor does it ameliorate the fears we have regarding biological warfare. This is just one instance of the "tail wagging the dog."

The improvements in medical care counterbalance these problems. Personally, I must remember that without the advances in cardiac and cancer research, neither my young granddaughter nor I would be alive today. Dr. Lloyd Young mentions Positron Emission Tomography which may transform the treatment of bi-polar disease and schizophrenia (Young).

The combustion engine is another form of technology which has changed our culture for better and worse. At present , more than 160 countries are meeting in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss the problems of global warming. The most recent reports from there are that there is much rhetorical posturing going on but little in the way of solutions or agreement (Washington Post ,...
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