There has long been a philosophical debate over the role of technology in our world. Certainly, technology has its benefits. Chemistry puts food on our tables by increasing crop yields. Medicine extends our lives by inspecting, protecting and even repairing our bodies. Modern transportation frees us from geographical limitations.
On the other hand, every technology seems to come at a cost. Cars fill the air with greenhouse gasses. Cell phones threaten us with cancer. Every prescription pill has a variety of side effects. Even when we try to be environmentally friendly, we can’t avoid some costs. Wind-power generation kills birds who migrate along their familiar path only to be chopped up by the spinning blades. We struggle with these tradeoffs.
Take a look at this new technology: Wave power! By using the natural undulation of ocean waves to push fluids back and forth through pipes, a Scottish company will generate enough power to supply 1,500 homes. The only power generating technology that could possibly be any greener would have to be electrodynamic tethers, long cables that pick up static charge as they are dragged through Earth’s magnetic field.
There was a time, in the early days of the Internet, when digital democracy was all the rage. How cool would it be, we asked ourselves, if we could vote anytime, anywhere, on the smallest of issues? We would no longer need to elect representatives! Well, in retrospect, that seems naive. As you can see from this demonstration of how easy it is to hack a Diebold electronic voting machine, paper ballots aren’t necessarily obsolete.
Every day seems to bring some new technology into our midst, so it’s more important than ever to remember that they are just tools. Our world is shaped by how we use them.