Greg Bear used to lecture aspiring writers about how the two World Wars ruined Western Civilization’s optimistic view of technology—he cited publishing timelines and glossed plots and pretty much proved his point, because he’s brilliant. For me, though, growing up in the African-American community, it was obvious technology was going to keep us from picking cotton and sharecropping and succumbing to a whole host of pre-industrial horrors. So I guess the milieu of ’50s and ’60s black culture is what first gave rise to my contra-Bearian optimism in that regard.
Later, as a teenaged hippy, I read Richard Brautigan’s poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” and realized that the supposed dichotomy between nature and artifice was itself artificial. I still believe that.
There are awful and scary things going on in conjunction with technology. Yet I don’t blame technology for the awfulness and scariness developing in its wake. That’s on us. However, I also don’t believe that technology in and of itself is neutral. Some technologies carry their potential for good and evil in their basic forms. Do we use them? Do we leave them alone? As I said, that’s on us.
Finally, let’s not forget that not all technologies are physical. Some are social. Banks are technologies. Schools are technologies. So are languages.
All a technology is, is a tool. It’s on us as humans to pick the tools we want.
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