Jerry Nixon @Work: Does technology make things better?

Jerry Nixon on Windows

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Does technology make things better?

I want to write about my girls. Many of my life’s novel things come from them. As a result I often want to remember something or share. Not this time.

I am reading a Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking – again. I knew his wheelchair was from Lou Garricks disease, and I assumed his inability to speak was the same cause.

In the book’s introduction Hawking recalls that complications from pneumonia required the removal of his voice box. He continued that his speaking computer, donated from some California firm, actually made it easier and more effective for him to communicate. Ah, the irony.

On that note comes “What is the value of technology?”

Is it the case that: life is better because of technology? Is it better that technology keeps people artificially alive or unnaturally long living? Is it better that the weak do not die young, the maimed are healed or the crippled restored? Is it better that communication is easier, the world is smaller or things move faster? Is it better that we know more, experience more and are can get more?

Is it better?

Although the answer might be apparently “yes” based on my leading examples, I would say the apparent “yes” is only because it was lead. The answer varies from context to context. In fact simply answering “is it better” is ridiculous.

My wife might not think my added hours in front of a monitor are great for our interpersonal communication. Though, distant family and friends might think my added hours maintain relationships otherwise subject to attrition. A victim of identity theft might not appreciate the interconnectedness of systems, while a policeman digitally researching criminal activity might feel the opposite.

That’s context. Simply saying technology (or really anything) is bad or whatever is pretty much limiting the context – or worse, ignoring the breadth of potential context.

Technology is a context in itself.

The base question is whether in fact there is such a thing as better. Although things improve, especially situations, a thing in itself has an effect that is difficult to quantify as to its actual objective value. Only in a context can we begin to parameterize our judgment so it makes lasting sense.

One thing for sure: such a discussion is quite esoteric.