Technology could end up taking our civilization backwards several thousand years
A close and critical look at the effects of modern technology on human life, society and the environment indicates that technology could be ruining our civilization. This startling observation stands in contrast to the traditional belief that regarded science and technology as a God-given gift to mankind.
We’ve long been taught that science and technology has brought about wonderful progress for mankind, i.e. progression towards Utopia, but it’s now looking more like an illusion of progress and may still all backfire horribly. It’s easy to produce a long list of the impressive avenues of discovery that have been opened up and the vast amount of knowledge gained through the scientific endeavour, only made possible through the use of modern technology. It seems almost miraculous, but we need to take a more sober, penetrating look and ask the right questions. We need to look at the bigger picture in order to properly evaluate the effects of technology, something only a few far-sighted observers are doing – and the result is disturbing.
Firstly, consider the field of modern medicine. Fifty years ago the average lifespan in the technologically advanced nations of the world was some 50 to 60 years whereas it is now around 70 to 80 years. We rely on the ability of doctors using modern medicine to cure diseases and apply emergency treatments to prevent death in cases of near fatal accident and trauma. The success rate in terms of survival cannot be minimised but only a few gerontologists are frank and perceptive enough to admit that the quality of life among those patients who survive to a ripe old age is not so good for those extra years. Most of the elderly people live out those extra years with one or more chronic mental and/or physical disorders or handicaps and worry about the regular treatments they require, their daily lists of medication and technological contraptions to cope with their pain, discomfort, handicap and/or mental condition. Fifty years ago, those who suffered cancer, a heart attack, stroke, diabetes or serious infection died rather quickly and were spared the long drawn out process of slow deterioration and death. Note that the use of morphine for easing pain and hastening the death process in terminal patients has been around for centuries. So the care of terminal patients today should not be considered better or more humane than before the advent of modern medicine. Some shocking statistical evidence is cited by Gary Null PhD, Caroly Dean MD ND, Martin Feldman MD, Debora Rasio MD and Dorothy Smith PhD in their 2003 paper. They show that the leading cause of death in the USA is the American medical system. This is the country that spends more money per capita on medical treatment and research than any other. In spite of all the medical treatment and research, the USA has the highest per capita rate of degenerative diseases [cancer, diabetes, heart problems, Alzheimer’s disease etc] in the Western world. Dr Joseph Mercola, a medical doctor, is one of those clear-minded doctors who has raised the alert and now offers alternative treatments. Most statistical projections from respected research institutions show that in spite of medical interventions, the proportion of the world’s population with degenerative diseases is expected to double over the next 50 years.
Doctors and hospitals today make very good money out of the elderly, chronically ill people and so a huge amount of money and focus is given to geriatric research and treatment for the aged. The sponsors of this research know only too well how desperate sick people and their relatives are to find a treatment that may prolong their lives. Not only do these elderly people provide a good market for the consumption of medications, technological contraptions and surgical treatments, but they also generally have the money or medical insurance to pay for them, and the longer they survive, the more health complications and side effects set in, so the use of more medicine and treatment multiples with age. It’s a very neat situation the medical system cannot resist exploiting, keeping them alive as long as possible. Because there’s such a big commercial interest in geriatrics, the negative aspect of a prolonged life is seldom acknowledged. Certainly, medical science prolongs life, but at the expense of the quality of life.
It may be argued that doctors save thirty or forty times more lives than they inadvertently kill or lose through botched surgery, faulty diagnosis, incorrect drug prescriptions or side effects. However it is also extremely noteworthy that some of the healthiest and oldest populations of the modern world are those where modern technology is virtually absent – for example the Okinawans, people from the mountains of India, the Hunzas – inhabitants from the high mountain valley of Villcabamba in South America and inhabitants of South Gerogia. Obviously these people get along very well without modern medicine and technology, in fact better without these aids.
Secondly, consider the way modern science and technology has multiplied the amount of food grown on the earth – machinery for ploughing, irrigating, harvesting and chemicals for fertilization and killing pests. Mass production of food has meant there’s plenty for everyone – if it were evenly distributed. But the negative aspects of this mass production are only now beginning to surface. The use of chemicals for fertilization and killing pests has caused widespread harm by exterminating the micro-organisms of the soil and water drainage eco-systems that are essential for conserving these life-sustaining systems. Likewise modern dams that were built to help drought-prone regions cause large scale irreversible damage to river and estuary eco-systems downstream, resulting in poverty, hardship and despair to hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depended on preserving the original eco-systems. Large scale deforestation that technology has brought about to make way for crops and grazing is changing the climate of regions and whole continents to the point where environmentalists are warning of catastrophic long term consequences for mankind. Droughts, floods and hurricanes are causing enormous damage and destruction of properties, and landscapes as well as poverty, despair and death to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
More food – Yes, but for how much longer? And at what cost, especially to those simple, hard-working peasants who depend on the land for their very existence and who are too poor to be considered relevant by the authorities that employ the technologists who do the damage. The benefits in terms of food production are obvious but the damage being done to the environment by commercially driven technologies is too easily ignored. The lives of literally millions of people have been devastated as these modern technologies eat up the best of the continents.
Furthermore, manmade fertilizers constitute a hidden health hazard for everyone – they increase the size of the crops but effectively decrease the nutritional value of the harvest. The hidden trap is that fruit and vegetables grown with hydroponics and artificial fertilizers are bigger and look delicious but typically contain lower levels of essential vitamins, micronutrients and trace elements. So while we think we are eating good, healthy food we are in fact depriving our bodies of the very means to remain fit and healthy, thanks to technology. In spite of the fact that dietary supplements [a product of modern technology] have become quite popular, degenerative diseases are on the increase all over the modern world and our poor diet is a big part of the problem.
Thirdly, we need to evaluate the effects of telecommunication and mass media.
We tend to think that more information and knowledge about what’s going on in the world is better for everyone. But is it? For example most people prefer NOT to know what’s hidden in their own genetic make-up, the potential diseases they may one day suffer from or their life expectancy. They don’t usually volunteer for regular medical checkups. Or they prefer NOT to watch the mainly negative news on the TV screen every evening when there’s little they can do to help or prevent all the violence and suffering they see. Sport, comedy and soap opera is much more fun. We generally prefer to live in blissful ignorance and deal with the problems one by one if and when they arise. Knowledge of all the new dangers and hazards that threaten our lives is only useful when we are able to use that information to avoid or minimize the threat but when bombarded with new threats we are unable to manage we merely experience heightened stress. To illustrate – most people would not be able to read through an expose like this one. They would find it all too gloomy and put it down after reading the first few paragraphs. One of the most notable social observations of the last century is that just about every country that has gone through a technological revolution has been characterised by rising levels of stress and stress-related disorders. So telecommunication and the mass media have both positive and negative effects.
The list of hidden costs and maladies arising from the application of modern science and technology becomes longer the more one looks and the deeper one digs. Use of motorized tools in the home and/or daily television or internet use has bred a whole new generation of lazy, obese and physically unfit people with a high incidence of back problems, poor muscle tone and obesity. Sound amplifiers and portable electronic equipment with headphones cause slow but irreversible hearing loss. Plastics, solvents, chemical and mining wastes have polluted previously clean and beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes and skies. Factory emissions have destroyed forests and historical buildings through acid rain. Sonar fish finders have depleted many fishing banks and threaten hundreds of fish species with extinction. Modern weapons mean protection for us but also genocide and devastation for our enemies.
Instead of modern science and technology developing into a miracle panacea and the solution to all mankind’s problems, we find there’s a dark side to nearly every benefit that modern technology brings – the overall picture is far less rosy than what might have appeared to the casual and superficial observer. A good way of assessing the total effect on society is to look at the symptoms of satisfaction of technologically advanced populations as a whole during the period of technology-driven change compared with less advanced nations; in other words to review those social statistics that indicate the sense of general well-being experienced by the individuals who make up the societies in question.
If technology has a purely beneficial effect we should expect to see more technology producing more happiness and less social problems all round. In fact it’s very telling – we see the very opposite trend. During the 20th century as technology advanced, we recorded all the signs of a society slowly degenerating – crime rates and suicide rates almost doubled; domestic violence, child abuse and divorce rates almost trebled; the number of cases of mental illness have doubled. Alcohol and drug addiction rates have increased by about 50%. Obviously many people are not very happy with the modern lifestyle that technology has given them! They’re more burdened, frustrated, angry, violent, stressed or hopeless than before and the politicians don’t seem to understand why!!! Or do they just not care?
Traditionally we thought that only a few evil people could misuse or pervert science and technology towards an evil end. We believed someone had to be obviously perverse to use science and technology to cause harm or ill effects, but now more and more scientists are pointing out that there are very serious side effects and unforeseen hazards involved in the large-scale use of science and technology. It is almost as if every application will eventually have some or other possibly irreversible negative reaction, the final magnitude and significance of which we have yet to discover. The full and final effect of the large-scale use of science and technology could be more devastating than the sum total of benefits we were consciously trying to achieve. We don’t yet know !!!
Can we say that science and technology is really good for us? In some ways it’s quite impressive, but in other ways – a potential Frankenstein’s monster. Scientists don’t fully appreciate the significance of what they are doing with technology, especially when they modify genetic coding and tamper with nature’s intricate interconnections and balances. Our civilization has reached the stage where most people today are totally dependent on modern technology for their survival. So we need to seriously reconsider this dependency – it has taken on the characteristic of an addiction, something we can’t survive without but a dependency that may be our ruin in the end.
The dominant scientific worldview is the centre of the problem. Our modern technocratic world has been educated to see nature as a threat to be dominated and controlled. We see hard work, effort and the delay of gratification as unnecessary scourge or evil to be avoided.
To cure society of its addition to technology will require the recreation of an entirely new human species. The question to ask now is whether the dominant scientific worldview that has become the animation of modern man today can at this late stage be dismantled and a new human soul recreated. If our civilization does not embark on a drastic change in direction now we may end up bringing about a global catastrophe that sends us backwards a few if not several thousand years.
About the Author
Engineer and psychologist