I need a quote about the fragility of modern technolog
January 28, 2007 6:34 PM   Subscribe

I need a quote about the fragility of modern technology and our reliance on it.

I am trying to think of a quote from any eminent person. It basically needs to convey the message that we rely on technology extensively ( or even complacently) but when that technology breaks down we are up a certain creek without a paddle.

Quotes about technology in general would be good, but ones about Information Technology would be most apt. Thanks.
posted by jacobean to Technology (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have anything specficially but hopefully this link can get you started.
posted by jbiz at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2007

One of my favourite cartoons by Michael Leunig deals with our reliance on technology, although not quite the breaking down of it all. It can be found here. You will have to scroll across to find it.
There comes a moment when all cables, leads, battery chargers and power adaptors we have ever owned gather together and assemble themselves around us and ask the terrible question: "What has happened to your life?"

posted by cholly at 6:50 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Technology, while adding daily to our physical ease, throws daily another loop of fine wire around our souls. It contributes hugely to our mobility, which we must not confuse with freedom. The extensions of our senses, which we find so fascinating, are not adding to the discrimination of our minds, since we need increasingly to take the reading of a needle on a dial to discover whether we think something is good or bad, or right or wrong.
ADLAI E. STEVENSON, "My Faith in Democratic Capitalism," in Fortune magazine, October, 1955. (Harper, S&S)

And others here.
posted by vacapinta at 6:55 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

A system in which all parts react the same way has a fatal flaw.
--Ghost in The Shell
posted by koudelka at 7:02 PM on January 28, 2007

Dave Barry: "If you own a computer, or have touched a computer, or have ever shaken hands with somebody who might have touched a computer, you need to take precautionary measures NOW. Because modern cyberspace is not the friendly, open, trusting, safe place it was back in February. Modern cyberspace is a deadly festering swamp, teeming with dangerous programs such as 'viruses,' 'worms,' 'Trojan horses' and 'licensed Microsoft software' that can take over your computer and render it useless.

This is exactly what happened last summer when the 'SoBig' virus infected computers around the world, causing millions of computer users to be completely cut off from the Internet during what turned out to be a critical phase in the relationship of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Fortunately, most of these computer users were able to resume monitoring the situation by turning on their televisions. But precious minutes were lost."
posted by GaelFC at 7:08 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"All of the biggest technological inventions created by man - the airplane, the automobile, the computer - says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness."
~Mark Kennedy

"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man."
~Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Dictionary and Book of Epigrams, 1923

"Do you realize if it weren't for Edison we'd be watching TV by candlelight?"
~Al Boliska

"The drive toward complex technical achievement offers a clue to why the U.S. is good at space gadgetry and bad at slum problems."
~John Kenneth Galbraith

"This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man - if man is not enslaved by it."
~Jonas Salk

"The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them."
~Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939

It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being."
~John Stuart Mill
Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower."
~Alan C. Kay
posted by Dipsomaniac at 7:43 PM on January 28, 2007

I've always been fond of "To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer," attributed to the 1978 Farmer's Almanac. It encapsulates your thesis very concisely.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2007

Is it true that mankind demands, and will always demand, miracle, mystery and authority? ... Surely it is true. Today, man gets his sense of the miraculous from science and machinery, radio, airplanes, vast ships, zeppelins, poison gas, artificial silk: these things nourish man's sense of the miraculous as magic did in the past...

~ D. H. Lawrence
posted by 0bvious at 8:04 PM on January 28, 2007

I have some notes from Edward Tenner's wonderful Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1996). My interests are mainly medical, but there's some great stuff here...

[my notes in square brackets], otherwise quotes

Technological systems also multiply the opportunities for miscalculation.

There is a [improper?] hierarchy of medical evidence, with tests and imaging results at the top, the physician's direct visual and aural examination in the middle, and the patient's account of the illness at the bottom. [the electronic medical record facilitates this hierarchy] An overreliance on tests can defeat medical common sense.

The shift from tool use to tool management enhances our power over the physical world while reducing immediacy of understanding.

The most fundamental revenge effects of contemporary medicine are systematic tendencies, not the dead ends and errors of therapeutics. The problem of today's medicine and main revenge effect of new therapies, is that contrary to our expectations of technology, the more advanced it becomes, the more it demands in vigilance and craftsmanship.

In medicine, the increased potential hazards of diagnostic and therapeutic equipment, complex procedures, and the possible interactions of drugs require an unusual degree of attention. The proof is the surprising frequency of errors in medical practice.

The great majority of avoidable medical errors go unnoticed.

Because the human body is a tightly-coupled system, in which treatments can make parts interact in unexpected ways, advanced medicine usually requires more rather than less human attention. More and more care becomes intensive, potential complications multiply, and deviations can be fatal. For physicians, new technology requires more rather than less craft. [Where do they get this craft?] For all health workers, it demands more rather than less vigilance.

Chronic illnesses run counter to most of the strengths of technological medicine.
Characteristics of chronic illness (from Anselm Strauss):
• long-term by nature
• uncertain prognosis
• demand relatively more symptomatic relief
• are multiple (tight coupling)
• socially disruptive for patients & require social services
• costly
• encourage unorthodox treatments

Citizens of the developed world have come to expect ever-higher standards of accuracy and protection.

One mark of newer technology is that while it is cheap in routine operation, it is expensive to correct and modify.

Getting experiments and machinery to work takes skills that don't appear in textbooks or manuals. So-called high-technology professionals learn these as artisans always have, by working with masters of the craft, and of course by trial and error.

Even as the cost of equipment goes down, the increased power and flexibility of hardware and software make them take more time to learn and to use.

More powerful hardware, even when it drops in price, does not run itself.

Remarkably little research has been devoted to the effects of computers on the quality of decision-making....There is growing evidence that software doesn't necessarily improve decision-making.

Computerization has helped reduce rather than promote the amount of time that these employees spend performing their highest and best work. Many highly paid people were spending a significant amount of their time performing what amounted to secretarial and clerical functions, usually working with computers but often not doing what they spent years at college and graduate school learning to do.

The growth of engineering as a profession has made a new type of error possible, as Henry Petroski has shown: overconfidence in the safety of a new design, the defects of which too often remain hidden until some new disaster occurs. But there is also a second type of error: failure to observe the repeated rituals that safe operation of advanced technology entails.

posted by neuron at 9:56 PM on January 28, 2007

To hear a list of ways technology is dehumanizing please press three now.
posted by pwally at 2:04 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

"If carpenters built houses the way programmers write code, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization." -anon
posted by paulsc at 2:31 AM on January 29, 2007

Watch the first half of the first episode of "Connections" by James Burke. There should be plenty of good stuff there, and Burke counts as eminent.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:55 AM on January 29, 2007


... Any one of a million things could fail and cause our complex civilization to collapse for an hour, for a day, or however long. That's when you find out the extent to which you are reliant on technology and don't even know it. That's when you see that it's so interdependent, that if you take one thing away, the whole thing falls down and leaves you with nothing."

— James Burke, 'The Trigger Effect', Connections (1979)

posted by -harlequin- at 4:00 AM on January 29, 2007

How about the good old: "Things you own, end up owning you."
posted by micayetoca at 5:51 AM on January 29, 2007

Second the James Burke quote - in fact, you should watch that entire episode, the first one in the Connections series. Totally worth it.

And if you like, watch the last episode as well where he ties up the whole series.
posted by plinth at 8:34 AM on January 29, 2007

maybe the russians used a pencil? unfortunately, it seems it's not true, but most ppl will still respond to the quote.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2007

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