Tuesday, 26 February 2008

What do we do about all these ‘Bleeps’?

I awake to a bleep on the radio then switch on my mobile phone that bleeps with the day’s first sms. I’m compelled to check emails.

I can only enter my office, after being electronically identified by some disembodied voice behind the intercom.

A animal herder in the Gobi desert checks the weekend’s European football results on his satellite T.V. and radios friends to compare results. Apparently, in the Taklimaken plains, more people have DVD players than running water, and in the Atacama desert, where it rains every 300 years, electronic devices check the weather then precipitate water from Pacific fog banks. A dialysis machine saves the life of a child in Peshawar. International networks of terrorists, and governments, separated by thousands of miles, are able to remain in contact by cellular and fibre-optic waves. An angry teenager in Colorado creates a forum website to discuss problems about the world, then shoots a number of people with a rifle.

Do we fully understand the profound impact that technology has on societies? Technology can be a blessing in disguise for some people but it can be a disruptive social disease for others. It can create healthy and prosperous countries but bring down the most secure. 

The problems facing us today are how to measure the mixed results of this proliferation of modern forms of technology and communication, and how to understand them. This also includes the impact of modern engineering on the natural environment. And furthermore, who is in control, who is involved in the key decision-making process? UNESCO’s commitments are more crucial than ever, as are those of other NGO‘s. And governments.

The word ‘Technology’ is derived from the Greek word technologia (τεχνολογια), which literally means ‘Craft-saying’. The word classifies the knowledge of humanity’s tools and crafts. Technology is not a modern phenomenon. It is an ancient cultural activity predating science and engineering that arrived with some of man’s earliest thoughts, like the wearing of clothing, to contemporarily culminating in the carbon based micro-chip. Its ancient status means that we cannot stop it or contain it, it will always be here, it is our heritage to create it. 

However, what is important is how to live with it and most of all, how to learn to use it responsibly with morality, compassion, and consideration. Without those, we are truly lost.