Despite the very serious problems that human beings still face—global climate change, war, recessions, disease—life expectancy in the wealthier, industrialized nations almost doubled between 1900 and 2000. This is entirely due to technological advances. From new agricultural methods that feed more people with less land to medical advances that heal those who in an earlier time would have died, the 20th century was already seeming pretty miraculous even before Silicon Valley garages gave birth to “high tech,” Hewlett-Packard, and the company behind the iMac (and iEverything).
Unforeseen and unintended
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, Princeton professor Edward Tenner observes that new technologies—the cutting-edge car systems, render farms, PC components, lightbulbs, frozen pizza, everything—inevitably result in unforeseen side effects, some good, some not so good. Asbestos debuted as an important breakthrough in fire safety, but after several decades there was growing evidence that its dust caused serious, even deadly, problems. But it saved lives, too, muddying up the ethical considerations tremendously. With practical rather than ethical limitations, the first Sinclair computer was still a true advance, but it saved data to cassette tape, a technology that died within a few years. It happens: Even today’s potent Mac Pro technology will one day be obsolete.
While bringing vast improvement to living standards and overall health, technology also gave governments the means to kill more people (their own or others) faster than ever. Perhaps nuclear power is the ultimate example of the tension between good and bad that exists with any tool (guns also spring immediately to mind): Nuclear technology can be a way to build hydrogen bombs for one nation, but the foundation of an iridium nuclear-energy fuel cell for another. The power source for the T-800 Terminator, that fuel cell could power a city for a day or your MacBook Pro rental for, oh, a few decades (if it existed, of course). As the first TechLife blog counseled, it’s all about balance. Easier said than done.
Information is power
At some point in the late 20th century our era was dubbed the “Information Age” due to all the accumulated advances in communications technology. In fact, CRE’s Apple Cinema Display rentals are direct descendants of the very first “information displays”—the broadsheets, books, and newspapers kickstarted by the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Now aiding in this continuing progress, which has helped “shrink the world” and better educate much of its population, are the ever-smaller, ever-smarter, ever-more-ubiquitous communications devices like cell phones, tablet PC rentals, and iPads. In print, on screen, via audio, or in some combination, humans are communicating seemingly everywhere and all the time.
Is that good? Bad? Neither? Both? In the final analysis, it’s what you make of it. Although some critics say it has made us more isolated, modern communications technology empowers new sorts of communities—virtual ones that transcend space and time. Computers may reduce in-person interaction, but “face time” is now possible with video-calling apps like Skype and, well, FaceTime! The richness of human social contact will not be rendered obsolete by social networking. With humans’ natural gregariousness, you’d really have to intend those particular consequences.
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