The shaping force of technology

There are few people who absolutely hate or absolutely love technology. Most of us fall between the two extremes, and at this time in history, we’re participating in a grand experiment concerning how technology will exist in our lives. How much privacy are we willing to relinquish? How much technology will we wear? Where will technology take human interaction?

What I’d like to know more about is technology’s inevitability. Do we control it, or does it control us?

Tim Wu has been on a tear writing about how technology shapes society. Here’s an excerpt from his recent piece:

The choice between demanding and easy technologies may be crucial to what we have called technological evolution. We are, as I argued in my most recent piece in this series, self-evolving. We make ourselves into what we, as a species, will become, mainly through our choices as consumers. If you accept these premises, our choice of technological tools becomes all-important; by the logic of biological atrophy, our unused skills and capacities tend to melt away, like the tail of an ape. It may sound overly dramatic, but the use of demanding technologies may actually be important to the future of the human race.

He goes on to ask if “convenience technologies” are making our lives more convenient. He concludes that they’re not. Instead, they’re turning a few difficult tasks into a multitude of easy ones. Technology is supposed to give us more time to do what’s important, but sometimes the things that are important become the discarded:

The risks of biological atrophy are even more important. Convenience technologies supposedly free us to focus on what matters, but sometimes the part that matters is what gets eliminated. Everyone knows that it is easier to drive to the top of a mountain than to hike; the views may be the same, but the feeling never is. By the same logic, we may evolve into creatures that can do more but find that what we do has somehow been robbed of the satisfaction we hoped it might contain.

How desirable is a future where technology makes everything easy?

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