Who fears changing technology, and what can you do about it?
February 25, 2018 1:37 AM   Subscribe

I grapple occasionally with a fear of technological change, particularly to no obvious purpose or in a case where i feel like the tech has outstripped the ethics. This combines with a general fear of the accelerating pace of innovation and such, and I really don't want to feel this way. How can I feel easier in my mind, or otherwise cope with this vexing problem?

I'll be the first to acknowledge that technology can do an amazing amount of good. As a totally blind person, my access to information, books, and general quality of life has been immeasurably improved in the past few years alone.

The thing that bothers me a lot sometimes is the fear that this rate of progress will continue or even increase. We went from simple powered flight to a space station, and that's not even factoring in the computer field over the past few decades. I just worry that I'll look back in forty years or so and not recognize anything.

This ties in with a fear of the misuse of technology. I just worry that we're developing new gadgets so quickly without considering the implications. I wish we could at least take a decade or two to adjust to things, or plateau, and that the culture around innovation wasn't so insistent.

So how do I reframe my thinking here into a less fearful place? Any advice or information would be appreciated.
posted by Alensin to Technology (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
There is a very valid basis to many of your concerns. There are indeed downsides to this acceleration. Tim Cook, a CEO of Apple, recently said he would not let a child of his own use social media. Other Apple executives and shareholders have come out worrying that their own company is addicting kids to iPhones.

Many similar critiques of the social effects of current technological developments, coming from people with less tech authority than those guys, are dismissed as Luddite type fear. That is not fair.

I think the way to get past your discomfort is to develop a thoughtful critique of what is bothering you. Don't pathologize yourself for doubting the dominant trends. Listen to your own instincts, and rather than suffer in fear or castigate yourself for having fear, make it into a rational critical objection.

Develop a way to form a pro-science critique of unlimited profit-driven tech growth. Put your discomfort into that.
posted by flourpot at 4:39 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

These seem like rational fears to have, especially if you're thinking more broadly than social media and consumer electronics. Though with all due respect to flourpot, even in those cases I think there are developments like ubiquitous surveillance which concerns about can't be dismissed as simply reactionary.

Since you may have difficulty resolving these fears through rational analysis alone, perhaps you'd want something like a religious or other spiritual approach that also encompasses reconciling and being at peace with the sorts of fears all humans have had throughout history—fears related to mortality, illness, natural disasters, and other precarities of life.

And despite the current and near-future problems related to technology we face, and which our societies in many cases seem to be unable to prepare for adequately or deal with, a silver lining is that on the above counts—thanks in some degree to technology—we are much better off than our predecessors. For example, your profile indicates you live in the United States, as I do; if I have my history correct, as a nation we've never suffered a large-scale famine. And even in much of the rest of the world it has been decades or longer since the most recent major famine, in marked contrast to the first half of the twentieth century and earlier.
posted by XMLicious at 4:53 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Look at what we have now that's of concern, electronic surveillance seems pervasive but it has not stopped crime, or forced us all into a scifi regimented drone populace. There's lots of talk about the affect of computers on children but that's been around a better part of a generation and there are a lot of young adults that are just fine. Problems everywhere but that is nothing new (smillie/sad face). My grandmother remembered the first airplane arrival in her town on the west coast but was happy to fly. The "singularity" seems like it would be the ultimate concern but while great fun to argue about by definition impossible to know until it happens.

In less than 40 years you'll probably hear or say yourself "I can't believe we ever let people drive cars" while sitting is a self driving car. But it'll be understandable and useful and handy and at our age we'll still understand the irony.
posted by sammyo at 5:33 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Though with all due respect to flourpot, even in those cases I think there are developments like ubiquitous surveillance which concerns about can't be dismissed as simply reactionary.

Sorry to be unclear. I was trying to say that I totally agree with this, actually. I think the concerns are often dismissed as reactionary but should not be.
posted by flourpot at 6:29 AM on February 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I fret about big societal changes and for instance what that will mean for my 9 yr old daughter I remind myself of let's say my grandparents. How they lived through the great depression, the second world war, the cold war, major industries no longer being competitive where they lived, etc.
All of these had great impact on them. But they made do and took it one day at a time.
And their grand children and great grand children are doing fine.
I guess this perspective helps me to accept that living through great upheaval is part of a long life.
posted by jouke at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2018

Just remind yourself that "accelerating change" is bullshit. While technology certainly has changed quite a lot in say the last 100 years, life really hasn't. I see technology as set decoration and toys for the most part. Yes, new technologies have impact on society at large but really not much has changed, at least in America, in the last 100 years because of technology. A time traveler from 1910 might be impressed with all our newfangled gadgets. But they might also be disappointed that we essentially live the same type of lives we did back then. We sleep in beds, not futuristic space pods. We eat breakfast cooked on fire, not dehydrated food pills. Cars look new and shiny but are essentially the same thing as a model T. Children are taught by humans teachers in a classroom, not by robots. We still have to pick up our dogs poop and wipe our own asses (unless you've got a Japanese toilet). Basically, technology hasn't changed us too much as human beings.
posted by runcibleshaw at 11:06 AM on February 25, 2018

everybody tends to make the mistake of extrapolating growth in whatever the current hot area is. so like in the 50s and 60s everybody was foreseeing space planes, weird chemistry, robots, and so on. yet in reality, this leveled off, we're still flying in 747s (first flight: 1969) and have cars and washing machines only a little better than the ones in the 60s. this is in large part why our lives still "looks like" life from 50 or more years ago, as other people have mentioned.

technological advances occurred in computing and communications. i assume everybody is making the same mistake today, except with the Internet and social media and so on. In reality, it will probably start to stabilize eventually.

of course, eventually things will become utterly incomprehensible, as they always have, but I don't think within any one person's lifetime.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:55 PM on February 25, 2018

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