The irony of writing a blog entitled “Techno-idiocy” using a computer is not lost upon me; technology has certainly made our lives better in many ways. However, technology has not only made our lives better, but easier as well. The term technology comes from the Greek: techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and logia; typically the term refers to an improvement to solutions concerning preexisting problems such as transportation, health and information sharing. There is no doubt that cars, healthcare and computers have been an improvement to solutions concerning preexisting problems; namely transportation has become extraordinarily more efficient, people live longer, and we have enormous amounts of information readily available at speeds that we cannot even fathom. These technologies have also led to consequences that we, perhaps, did not foresee such as techno-idiocy. Techno-idiocy is the result of relying upon technology to make our lives easier, but not necessarily better.
Let it be understood that without a doubt technology has made our lives better. Borrowing from the above examples, cars have allowed people to travel distances hitherto either impossible or extremely dangerous relatively easily and fairly inexpensively. Healthcare technologies have lengthened lifespans and provided a quality of life to those who would have otherwise lived in misery or died in pain. Computers, a relatively recent addition to our technological advances, has allowed for those who have access to them information and the ability to communicate at light-speed as well as calculate solutions to problems often in a matter of seconds. These examples of technology have no doubt improved upon the solutions concerning preexisting problems, but these solution have not been easily gotten; they have come at a cost.
Cars produce emissions that have proven dangerous to the environment and have helped produce societies that are much less human-friendly: more highways and roads and less natural areas, helped to fracture societies and have been accessory to health problems the world over. Furthermore, the auto industry has produced other industries, primarily the oil industry, that is equal to or worse dangers for the environment and as a result for us all. Healthcare technologies have produced serious overpopulation issues, created a disconnect between human beings, and their inevitable mortality creating a “life at any cost” attitude in many societies and the elongation of pain and misery for those who are terminally ill. Computers have been an accessory to obesity, compulsive behaviors, privacy issues, and a number of social and psychological problems.
The result of techno-idiocy is that we begin to define anything easier as being better, and while technology has bettered our lives, “easier” comes at costs that more often than not are overlooked, ignored or accepted. Today technology pervades almost every aspect of our lives, and often we accept technological advances as necessary and almost always as progressive. This is not necessarily true. Why do cars need to be huge gas-guzzlers that we come to worship and even define ourselves by? Why is life important even when it is nothing more than existence? Why do people need to “stay connected” at all times? In essence, why is easy always better? The lack of discussions regarding such questions is the lack of understanding what we mean by progress. If progress is to be considered a positive movement towards the betterment of humanity, then the consequences of technology must be positive in order to be better. Easy is not always positive. Often “new and improved” does not mean better which seems to beg the question: why isn’t easy always better?
I’ve found part of the answer in David Thoreau’s, Walden. It is easy to blame modern society for the problems that we encounter in our everyday lives, but techno-idiocy is nothing new. Thoreau noticed these attitudes in 1845. He writes, “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are only not indispensible, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Technology becomes idiotic when it hinders progress. What Thoreau was referring to is virtue. It is not easy to decide to be a virtuous person, but in striving to do so we will elevate ourselves as well as our societies. It is easier to be a techno-idiot (to define progress as easy), but much more virtuous to rise above the ease (and luxury) of technology for the sake of real progress (defined as the betterment of humanity).
First, easy alone is not progressive as David Thoreau points out when he asked, “Shall we forever resign the pleasure [italics mine] of construction to the carpenter?” It is not always better to be able and choose to pay someone to do something for us because in doing so we miss an opportunity, the pleasure of learning, of being self-sufficient, and even failing. Secondly, easy is often an excuse for laziness. Technology has made our lives easier, but has also made us much lazier. We no longer have to have to think before we write (hit the ‘delete’ key); we no longer have to be cordial or even considerate to those around us (text someone else); no longer have to think for ourselves (google it). These are the consequences of techno-idiocy.
Making our lives easier is not in prima fascia immoral, but easy at all costs (just like business at all cost) often is. To accept technology simply because it makes our lives easier, and for no other reason, is wrong-headed. We can all most likely agree that technology has expanded the boundaries of our capacities, but it is less likely that we can agree on the areas that technology has limited our progress. However, as obesity rates soar, education becomes made-for-profit technological experiments, and social norms continue to adhere to easy access information, techno-idiocy will cease to be viewed as a hindrance to the elevation of mankind and become an indispensable attitude to survive in an ever growing techno-idiotic society.