Sharon Turner

EAP Teacher (English for Academic Purposes), Sabanci University

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Is resistance to technology use in society based on our evolution history tied to the land rather than the machine?

While recently reading a book The Nature of Technology-What it is and how it evolves by W. Brain Arthur, one extract has really resonated with me. Here is the extract:

“as humans, we are attuned not to the things we hope in-not to technology-but to something different. We are attuned in the deepest parts of our being to nature, to our original condition as human-kind. We have familiarity with nature, a reliance on it that comes from three million years of at-homeness with it. We trust nature. When we happen upon technology such as stem cell regenerative therapy, we experience hope. But we also immediately ask how natural this technology is. And so we are caught between two deep unconscious forces: Our deepest hope as humans lies in technology; but our deepest trust lies in nature. These forces are like tectonic plates grinding inexorably into each other in one long slow collision”. (Arthur: 2009 pg11)

Pondering on this thought I wonder whether fervent resistance to technology or blending the machine and the human is tied to our evolutionary history. Are we witnessing a new epoch in our own evolution? If, yes where will it lead us?

  • May 18 2011: I don't see why technology and nature are always viewed as such separate entities. At the heart of making anything "go" is nature. As technology expands, it expands our "nature." Any change is difficult for people to except, but as time flies by, I believe the lines will continue to blur.
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    May 19 2011: Intersting that I come across this after listening to a book called What Technology Wants. I think we are pretty self centric. Does my skin cell think of itself, talk to its neighbors, bare children, pass along skill and wisdom and then die off to leave a new generation to continue? Are people just cells in a larger evolution or birth of a new organism.

    Technology is a creation of ourselves from the first tools or signal fires used 65,000 years ago (or more). I do believe technology evolution (and by default the human psychae) is accelerating. Where is it leading... I am not sure. But I do think it is not "our own" evolution we are witnessing, it is and understanding of our place within the larger systems that are emerrging. Resisting technology will not matter, technology monitors you and it will take any contribution from you as you are willing to give. A bank account, a phone number, even the purchase or consumption of food. It is all captured by the system and used to impact everyone else.

    The one point I wish to make, or idea to post, is that for the past 15 years those who have had access and emersed themselves in "technology" have had a level of influence in the so called evolution. Now with more people engaged (not all of course) the people who believe the engagement in technology provides a level of access/influence/awareness, will quickly find they don't. Those that can step out and understand the system overall will build the next higher order of intelligence within the evolution of technology. Whether we participate or not it will happen, becasue if it is not you, someone else will engage.

    And here I sit doing my part, responding to a stimulus, and feeding the system. Just like a skin cell.

    I am not depressed by this, I find it facinating to now see how far I can sense, knowing I am the centre of my universe.

    Thank you for the question.
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      May 28 2011: Hi Christopher,

      Thank you for the thought provoking response. I would completely agree that we are self centric. We also do feed the system as I am also doing right now. I found your comment on the people expecting a level of influence or access spot on. The more people that use it the weaker that influence becomes. I wonder what that next higher order of intelligence will produce. For me that is fascinating. Where will it go? Will we physically blend and implant machinery inside our selves beyond medicine? Where will nano tech lead us? What other aspects of our universe are there to discover and how will this knowledge impact our lives and our world?
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    May 18 2011: The rate of technological change increased very slowly from ancient times through the middle ages up to the beginning of the modern era from and after the Reformation. Beginning in the eighteenth century in Britain, the rate of technological change began accelerating in a manner never experienced before and continues to accelerate to this day. Until at least the end of the nineteenth century technological change (cheaper fabrics, better public health, easier movement from place to place) was seen by most people as beneficial (except of course for those who lost their employment because of it, such as the weavers). Starting some time in the twentieth century, with things changing faster and faster, some people began getting nervous, and that nervousness has increased and been transmuted into positive alarm on the part of many people today. Technological change has led to vast social changes and we as a species just are not accustomed to dealing with such things. The fact is generally accepted that through millions of years during paleolithic times our ancestors experienced almost no change at all. Over the past, say, fifteen thousand years there have been very significant changes, but still at much, much slower rates than is true today. As a species, I personally don't believe we have as yet any evolutionary adaptation to the kind of change that has become normal over the past three hundred years. Accordingly, many people demonize technological change and idealize whatever they conceive of as "nature." Particularly if they have a social memory of having been injured by technological change in the past (as in the U.K.) I think that the rate of technological change will remain very, very fast because of the obvious and overwhelming economic benefits it brings.
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    May 20 2011: While adjusting to technologies is not only crucial, it is inevitable. Mixing technology with how we live has been the way of it for many years. With the nearness to innovation we have advanced or 'evolved' it along with our changing needs. A major reason for our changing needs is now and has been for some years the very technology that we have been adapting to suite our needs. So have we changed ourself to adapt to technology or have we adapted our technology to change ourselves.

    Another question I have is how far do we let it go? Do we actually implant chips and genetically design our children? How about ourselves? At this point of the evolution I would rather not physically bond with technology in that way. I like how I can access it when I choose and leave it behind when the situation calls for that. While it does seem that our culture is heading the way of incorporating advanced technology directly into our beings.
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      May 28 2011: Hi Thomas,

      I am also not sure that I would like to implant a chip in my body or download or copy what was inside my head. Although that said I did see a remarkable demonstration of the effect of an implant for Parkinson disease. For a medical reason I think I would consider an implant. I also really liked your question: So have we changed ourself to adapt to technology or have we adapted our technology to change ourselves? Possibly both. Perhaps those designing the technology have such ideas in mind about changing society or challenging humanity to change. Facebook is an interesting example of this. Possibly we also do change ourselves and the way in which we process or interact with various technologies, such as movement from the linear world to a more lateral way of thinking. It will be interesting to see how technology causes us to adapt. Thanks for the thoughts.
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    May 18 2011: I see Arthur is an economist so with all due respect to him; I would expect his book to be pretty much the "same old same old." He's done nothing more than to provide a social constructivists or novices conceptual understanding of technology, and his perceptions regarding it. I’d recommend James Burke’s years old Connection series http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/james-burke-connections/ for a better perspective regarding technology. Technology is not new. Technology has been around since mankind first became cognizant of the self. With humankind's harnessing of fire, clothing self to protect self from the elements, colonizing localizes areas for resources, and use of simple tools, like a stick, rock, or sinew, humanity has become quite adapt at technology and technique. It’s just that those trained is science, engineer, and technology have done a poor job conveying technologies continual impact upon humanity. There's been a host of philosophers/theorists concerning technology. I’d recommend everyone to peruse the following URL, http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/tech_theory.html
  • May 18 2011: I enjoyed the authors observations on the subject, although I do not see the relationship of technology and nature as a "collision" but actually quite the opposite. Mankind has increasingly pushed technology and spread the gap between it and nature. Some argue this to the extent that technology has developed it's own life force and could potentially be classified as the "7th Kingdom of Life". I believe that present mankind still has the power to choose it's direction but this decision will quickly become more of an issue than a simple literary mind-bender.
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    May 18 2011: Hi Sharon,
    The book sounds interesting! My take on this question is pretty simplistic. We know and have had a lifetime to get used to nature. Technology on the other hand is fairly new. Many people who understand technology (and sometimes science) are not as experienced or as proficient with words or with explaning what they understand to others. A lot of technology seems daunting and even frustrating because lay persons do not get good tutorials on using or understanding it. Remember the frustration of trying to program your first VCR? (How good have most written manuals ever been in your experience?) A wall builds up which is reinforced by our feelings of inadequacy which sparks feeling of unease and mistrust.
    Cognitively we are fairly easily discouraged. When we give something a brave try and cannot figure it out we tend to shy away and move toward more successful pursuits.

    With time, people will adapt. My daughter was far more computer savvy at 8 than I will ever be. It all comes naturally to her- just part of her life. So I think that we just need a little time. The benefits will prove to outweigh the disadvantages and when we need it technological advances will be there for us. I do think we will have better futures because of technology.
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      May 18 2011: But do we ever really adapt? Who doesn't go for walk in the country, on a spring day, the plants blooming, the sun shining, the birds singing and not feel at home?
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        May 18 2011: Hey Tim,

        The best work being done on all sorts of phobias today demonstrates that controlled exposure is pretty good at overcoming extreme fear.

        I think we adapt by exposure, by having people model acceptance and use, by having technology become more intuitive and by experiencing the positive and life affirming aspects of technology.

        One of the worst sources of fear of technology was early machinery which did harm many people because of unsafe working conditions eg ripping arms off. That has partially led to this societal sense of dis-ease. Everyone involved with creating technologies and scientific advancements should realize the vast potential for inculcating fear if they are not vigilant enough to ensure that there are no well publicized disasters- like an implant blowing up.
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        May 19 2011: Hey there Jaime Lubin! I love your new flag waving colours! Ole!

        I always love the way you illuminate the specifics for all of us. The treaty with the US is very disturbing to me.

        Now I have a list of three books that you have recommended. Amazon will be thrilled with the new business!
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        May 19 2011: Many cultures have enriched us all and we are not sufficiently aware to give them credit for the advancements we use in our daily live. While I recognize and understand the point you are making about new devices and I agree that some are ancient ones whose time has come, I do not want to completely diminish human creativity. People really are putting together new ideas to come up with startling and exciting technologies that we have never seen before, don't you think?
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        May 20 2011: Who came up with pie? Cause I gotta thank them!
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      May 28 2011: Hi Debra and Tim,
      Thank you for your comment Tim about whether we ever adapt. We do have a deep connection with nature. But Debra your point about fear and the lack of clear explanation for people is also valid. We are living in a time of immense and fast technological change that people generally feel overwhelmed. How could this be counteracted? From regular people around me either they embrace technology or they reject new technology completely. This can be problematic when they are also educators. In order to control their situation they have shut down all kinds of technology that actually could engage and inspire their learners.
  • May 17 2011: Personal opinion is that the disconnect is not so fundamental as the extract suggests, but rather is a function of a more complex interaction between the apparent increase in the gap between bleeding edge technology and the facility of the general public to understand it, the apparent increasing mistrust of science and the influence of the mainstream media on this - see news stories about the LHC and mini blackholes, the impact of sensationalist novels etc. - and a raft of other influences from the decline in the Western world of a powerful monotheistic church based state, the increase in the prevalence of conspiracy theories, poor PR from the science community and a nebulous sense of foreboding that seems to pervade society.

    I'm thinking here of examples such as GMO, here in the UK the perception is that GM crops are being introduced through the back door, and this causes a concern reaction. Similar situation with cloning and stem cell research, dis-information in the mainstream media coupled with a lack of strong and valid PR from the scientific community.

    I don't see necessarily a trust in nature either, particularly given the increased coverage of natural disasters and their consequences. I think people are general just scared, and will be resistant to any change as a consequence.

    Interesting topic, thank you
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    May 17 2011: Everything new in the medical is always resisted for a while. The first pioneers of medicine were burned alive by the church in europe. The transplantation of organs has been resisted a long time. The stem cells research and genetic engineering are being resisted but those resistance won't last forever, one day, nobody will dare say a word against genetic medical breakthroughs or against genetic manipulations.

    Not to mention synthetic biology, that will beat everything else in term of technology.
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    May 16 2011: Seems to me we are at a time in our evolutionary history where we are very open to tech. Our diets are maintain by a cocktail of chemical that did not exist in nature a few generations ago. People used to pass down tool to their offspring, whereas now within 15 years or so technology will be so old it is unusable. Very few people will not seek out the latest medical discovery to increase their life span and quality. Of course we are curious creatures and will ponder all of this. Also people do just tire out of learning about technology itself. Once someone finds a reasonable way of acquiring there desires they might not be as interested in learning a newer way even if it is better. Kind of like someone wanting to form a relationship rather than just dating new people. I would not mistake this for fervent resistance, the young will always be more open to new ideas.

    Also I would not completely separate nature and technology. All technology is based on the exploiting of natural occurrences in a thoughtful way. In many ways I would guess as people expand what is possible through technology the more they will be grounded in nature and vic versa.

    As for if we are going through an evolutionary period, maybe? But also think about how much people had to think before we learned to farm. As hunter gathers we making a slight botanical mistake could mean death. Learning to track animals, learning to use them for clothes and preserve their meat. Everyone had to learn these skills, with little mentoring. As we learned to farm only the few elite people actually had to use their brain and as we entered the industrial age this dichotomy between the schooled and the masses increased . Maybe right now we are just entering another stage of cultural development that allows as to use our innate intelligence.
  • May 16 2011: I think the resistance comes from fear of unknown. To tie it to the extract you have provided, nature = known and tampering with nature = unknown.

    So yes, our hopes lies in technology, we know that at the current pace in which we are consuming (and in turn destroying) natural resources, only technology can save and undo some of the damage we are doing. But when we start tampering with / threatening the fabric of life - of course we are tangled up in our consciousness.

    Still I do not fully agree with the statement that humans are resisting technology, but I would rather say they are resisting certain type of technology. If we look back through time, each century has had certain disruptive technologies which completely redefined the prevalent notions of that era. Thus these technologies faced resistance. For example Stem cell research, research at CERN

    On other hand, technologies that did not challenge basic notions (while still making human life easier) have been accepted with open arms! For example: Electricity, steam engines
  • May 16 2011: This is an interesting topic. Some people spend their whole life living in a city, barely venturing into nature. Others cannot be too long without going for a hike or a trip.

    What I think is common to most people is desire to discover new frontiers, this time it is technology world that we are uncovering in ever faster pace. People constantly seek new experiences and perhaps that is also our innate urge for survival?