Technological vs. Social Progress

Technology might be a social bandage at best and a crutch at worst. Insofar as technology seeks to solve social problems—human problems—it can’t do much to enlighten us. Technology itself doesn’t make us better people; that’s not work we can pawn off to anyone (or anything) else.

For instance, modern cars may be safer than ever, saving thousands of lives in accidents; but they do nothing to discourage drunk driving. If anything, safer cars means that we can take more chances, since we’re more likely to survive accidents. Today, algorithms that make decisions for us mean we’re outsourcing that intellectual labor, risking the loss of deliberative skills, including moral reasoning. Those are exactly the skills we need for social progress.

Because it’s built on a technological foundation, modern society overprivileges empirical knowledge. Many seem to believe that engineering is real, while ethics is just opinions, and opinions don’t matter much. As a result, we see an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education from primary schools to most universities. But non-empirical matters, such as ethics, continue to be difficult to teach and are often neglected, despite lip service to the arts and humanities.

More than tolerance, wisdom is difficult to sustain. We’re having to re-learn lost lessons—sometimes terrible lessons— from the past, and intergenerational memory is short. “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes,” as Mark Twain (might have) said. (Patrick Lin “Technological vs. Social Progress: Why the Disconnect?“)

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