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I found the readings this week interesting, because they pointed out the negative aspects of technology that one might not always consider. In "The Technological Imperative," Mumford discusses the ways in which we surrender to new technological novelties, and take part in technological compulsiveness. I think we can all relate to this. Everyone wants the new iPhone simply because it is offered, no matter if they need it, or if it was that different from the one that came before it. We are obsessed with the idea of always having something that is better, faster and more technologically advanced. In Frankenstein, he stops his whole life in order to create a human being, and after he has, he is disgusted with himself. It raises the question, should we do something just because we can? Finally, "How does improved technology mean progress?" argues that yes, improved technology can mean progress in some situations. But it really depends on what we are progressing towards. One thing I found most interesting from that article was at the very end, Marx says that nuclear weapons have in part caused us to reject ordinary problem solving tactics of international negotiation and compromise. Why compromise when you can just kill everyone and get your way? How is this ethical? We need to use our power of technological advancement in an ethically progressive way.
While reading Frankenstein, I thought it was interesting how women were described. Mothers and daughters seem to be described as very passive and their main role is to be the care giver. I enjoyed chapter 4 the most because I thought learning about his beginning to the sciences and what he enjoyed studying the most (anatomy and how the body falls apart). And then he goes onto secretively construct his own creature. The first two chapters for shadowed the bad events to come and that doom becomes reality in the later chapters. Although it is good to be curious, it can also come with risks.
There seemed to be a similar theme that ran through all three readings. The notion of fervently pursuing technology and progress with a lack of acknowledgement of this action's cost. In Frankenstein the man was secluded in his home, oblivious to the transformations outside of Winter, Spring and Summer which he used to find such great delight in. It was not until his creation became alive, that he realized the malnourishment of his body and his mind.
This is also echoed in Leo Marx's article which talks about the changing views of progress. During the period of enlightenment progress was seen as social and political liberation. New technology was to aid in the transformation in society not to be an end. But slowly the technocratic idea of progress took over and it valued improvement in power, efficiency and rationality and no longer saw technology as merely a tool in progress but progress itself. This line of thinking values a machine that may increase efficiency in the work place but does not acknowledge the detrimental societal effects that this machine wields. And Lewis Mumford's piece nicely echoes this idea of pursuing new technologies and products regardless if they are an improvement and without thought to their human consequences.
Through the readings, I saw the consistent theme of desire for improvement and a naivete about that improvement as a result of technology that is echoed throughout all those 'unenlightened' cultures, those being the ones who are not party to the large technological achievements that they see in others.
It is interesting, then, that this lust for technology and the seeming improvement it brings is looked at with disdain by those who have access to this higher level of technology, that being the Americans in China, Mumford in his paper The Technological Imperative, as well as Frankenstein after his creation of the monster in the novel Frankenstein.
This disdain seen in these cultures seemingly advanced by technology is in fact the solution to the problems created by these advancements. If we are skeptical about the culture and the obsession with advancement that is in it, we can help prevent much of the negatives of this advancement, such as the push against eugenics, the push against nuclear technology, etc.
When reading Frankenstein, I thought it was interesting how the narrator discussed his feelings of becoming interested in the human body (how it is made and how it decays after death). He becomes so interested in the thought of a new race of human beings that it drives him to create one for himself. It seems like a miraculous accomplishment at first, but the end of the chapter definitely shows that great advances in technology may not always turn out for the best.
To me, this relates to present day discoveries and the advancement in technology. There will always be someone who finds they are interested in a new area of study, or are interested in further studying a subject that already exists. The more people who study further and become engaged in discovering something new, the greater the chances of advancements in life will follow. This is because in our society today, we are use to trying to discover new technological and innovative ways that can help advance our society with ease. For example, we strive to find ways to make our lives easier to live by adding technology that allows us to get things done at a faster pace. Although we originally think that these innovations and advancements will benefit us without any doubt, there are many cases of things going wrong that illustrate the risks associated with these advancements. For example, the advancement in many farming techniques has slowly begun contributing to climate change and the loss of biodiversity from agricultural runoffs (due to irrigation and fertilizers).
I am surprised in the Mary Shelley piece to see the root of all of Frankenstein’s problems to come from the ancient sciences while he was taught by a father with little interest in the sciences. It sounds as if his great new technology, the technology of creating life, at least had root in the most unlikely, unmodernized, uneducated forms of science, yet he bounded ahead of his own scientific contemporaries once he connected the passion of the ancient philosophers to the scientific methods of the new natural philosophies. It’s also interesting to see how nature helps to illustrate the science that he is learning. The lightning storms and the mountainous setting sometimes seem to have just as much of an effect upon his science and study as the actual books and experiments do. It’s also interesting to see how he tracks the seasons as he works, and counts his rejection of the joys of spring and the blossoming plants during his study as a major sign that his study was unhealthy.
In chapter two he says that “It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable. By one of those caprices of the mind, which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations; set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science, which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics, and the branches of study appertaining to that science, as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration.” This he says is the last attempt of good to keep him from his horrible fate in science, but his destiny is sealed. This is intriguing, for he is essentially dissuading his readers from dabbling in technology. It sounds as if you are better off if you leave well enough alone! But of course, he does not do this himself, and we get a good story out of it. This seems to be the attitude of the world when it comes to progress and technology; while some who are dedicated to it promote it, many are wary and wish that they could just leave well enough alone. However, they are swept along into the technological “destiny that is potent” before anything else can be done.
In chapter two he goes on swiftly to say that “It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable. By one of those caprices of the mind, which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations; set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science, which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics, and the branches of study appertaining to that science, as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration.” This he says is the last attempt of good to keep him from his horrible fate in science, but his destiny is sealed. This is intriguing, for he is essentially dissuading his readers from dabbling in technology. It sounds as if you are better off if you leave well enough alone! But of course, he does not do this himself, and we get a good story out of it. This seems to be the attitude of the world when it comes to progress and technology; while some who are dedicated to it promote it, many are wary and wish that they could just leave well enough alone. However, they are swept along into the technological “destiny that is potent” before anything else can be done.
I found that a common thread, or theme, when reading the Mumford, Shelley and Marx pieces, was that each innovation, new technology, or form of progress carries with it risks that can be difficult to consider at the outset of a project.
For example, Mumford notes that Western society has a tendency to accept new innovations "unconditionally just because they are offered, without respect to the human consequences." Technological change does not come without consequences. Consider also Marx's question about progress: While he acknowledges that improved technology can mean progress, he also asks to what end this progress will be towards. Progress for the sake of progress does little to enhance, and may actually harm, society. Finally, a lack of consideration of the risks associated with innovation can be seen in the reaction of Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein. He had invested all his time and energy into doing something once thought impossible. When he looks upon his reanimated creature, however, he says "...but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (Chapter 5). He realized that despite accomplishing his goal, he had been misguided in his pursuits, and the regret over his creation drives him mad.
These examples demonstrate how important it is to weigh the benefits of a of technology against its negative impacts before pursuing innovation, progress, creation, and the like.
I liked the line from Mumford: "Technological possibilities are irrestible to man. If man can go to the moon, he will. If he can control the climate, he will."
Frankenstein's drive to create life seems to follow this observation. He became obsessed, shutting himself off from friends, family and the outside world in persuit of creating life. He gave no thought to the consequences of his actions in either the process of creating life, nor the consequences of abandoning it. He created a creature simply because he could, and once it was completed, he instantly regretted his actions. This seems similar to the reaction of Rober Oppenheimer, who, upon viewing the results of his work on the atomic bomb, repordedly said, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
After reading “Does Improved Technology Mean Progress?” I took a step back. When I think ‘technology’, I think iPods, wires, stunning graphics, and robots. Never did I pause for a moment and realize that technology is not only about the future. Nor did I think that past advancements in technologies, resulting in events such as Hiroshima, were steps back in progress. I do not believe the existence of a new advancement in technology could be negative in essence, but I do believe we may not be mature enough to know how to deal with these new advancements. We are the reason new technologies exist and we are the reason new technologies can be detrimental to society. One would think that a human so intelligent to invent something such as the atomic bomb would also have the intelligence to understand the consequences of using such a weapon. It is ironic that our intelligence is more often than not used to hurt each other than to help. The US’s capitalist economy shows this today - such as cable provider companies’ monopoly - to long before with the development of a patent. A patent allows one to hoard their advancement for monetary gain, a truly greedy action especially if the technology could help people who could otherwise not afford it. Franklin’s refusal to patent his stove is what we would hope most people would act in a utopian world. “That as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any inventions of ours, and this we should do freely and generously” (Marx 7).
While reading Frankenstein, I thought it rather extraordinary how quickly the narrator changed his feelings about the monster. When moments before he had been explaining how he had made the creature beautiful, as soon as he had animated it, he became afraid and awfully ill. The idea that a creation can so quickly get out of hand and turn out not to be the terrific thought that it could have been, applies to the way that advancements in technology come along to make people's lives much simpler and nicer and have consequences that were previously unforeseen. Maybe animating a new body should have been an obvious idea where something could go awry, but it is a good symbol of the runaway effects of a technology.
This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on January 23, 2013 8:27 AM.
"Technology and Happiness" - J Surowiecki; "Economy" - H Thoreau; "Luxury or Necessity?"; Louis CK is the next entry in this blog.
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