The power/curse of technology

In part II of his series on technological evolution, Tim Wu writes about the Oji-Cree people [HT: The Dish]:

… taking a quick trip up north, to an isolated area south of the Hudson Bay. Here live the Oji-Cree, a people, numbering about thirty thousand, who inhabit a cold and desolate land roughly the size of Germany. For much of the twentieth century, the Oji-Cree lived at a technological level that can be described as relatively simple. As nomads, they lived in tents during the summer, and in cabins during the winter. Snowshoes, dog sleds, and canoes were the main modes of transportation, used to track and kill fish, rabbits, and moose for food. A doctor who worked with the Oji-Cree in the nineteen-forties has noted the absence of mental breakdowns or substance abuse within the population, observing that “the people lived a rugged, rigorous life with plenty of exercise.”

As the 1960s approached, so did the quick spread of technology in the Oji-Cree’s harsh region. Now they’re a different people:

The good news is that, nowadays, the Oji-Cree no longer face the threat of winter starvation, which regularly killed people in earlier times.

[…]

 But, in the main, the Oji-Cree story is not a happy one. Since the arrival of new technologies, the population has suffered a massive increase in morbid obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Social problems are rampant: idleness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide have reached some of the highest levels on earth. Diabetes, in particular, has become so common (affecting forty per cent of the population) that researchers think that many children, after exposure in the womb, are born with an increased predisposition to the disease. Childhood obesity is widespread, and ten-year-olds sometimes appear middle-aged. Recently, the Chief of a small Oji-Cree community estimated that half of his adult population was addicted to OxyContin or other painkillers.

It’s too early to be completely pro or con in relation to technology’s effect on society. Awareness of the good technology can afford us, as well as the bad, should fill us with what I’d call “optimistic caution.”

Technological evolution is occurring at an extremely rapid pace, and the advancement should be viewed in the same way as a weapon: When used correctly, it has the ability to help and protect many people; when used incorrectly, the result can be disastrous.

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