The Technological Fix: Mechanical Miracle Drug or Synthetic Snake Oil?

     In his article, Jeff Douthwaite describes a concept known as a “technological fix”, in which humans use technology to solve society’s problems (Douthwaite 31). While Douthwaite acknowledges that this practice is hardly a permanent solution, he thinks it a necessary evil until the human race appeals to its better nature (Douthwaite 32). For example, he mentions the idea of cars that will not start unless their driver is sober, thus reducing the likelihood of an accident via drunk driving (Douthwaite 31). By Douthwaite’s reasoning, it is far less risky to use technology to solve our social ills than it is to have people take responsibility for their actions, such as not driving while intoxicated. However, his proposal would not be met without strong opposition from Sean F. Johnston, a professor of the University of Glascow (Johnston 54), as well as authors Michael and Joyce Huesemann. Both Johnston and the Huesemanns share a similar concern with plastering technology over an issue, primarily the environmental effects that these “fixes” can have (Johnston 52, Huesemann and Huesemann 14-15). In their book “Techno-Fix”,  the Huesemanns stress the idea of interconnectedness among everything in nature, including humans and our activities (Huesemann and Huesemann 3-5). As they would argue, we cannot make any sort of technological advancement without it affecting the greater ecosystem in some capacity. Nature works in a neverending cycle, a cycle which humans are incapable of separating ourselves from. Technology has improved our quality of life at the moment, but it will inevitably catch up with us, thus rendering any initial advantage it had completely meaningless (Huesemann and Huesemann 11). Johnston would add that even in our current situation, the benefits of technological fixes aren’t equally distributed to everyone (Johnston 53). Not only does this include non-human organisms, but also marginalized groups of people who hold little power over decision making. The Huesemanns would agree, citing the degradation of indigenous cultures as another consequence of advancing technology (Huesemann and Huesemann 9). For both Johnston and the Huesemanns, it seems the pros Douthwaite sees in technological fixes are heavily outweighed by the cons.

 

     Technology cannot be separated from the environment because it is a thread tightly coiled round humanity’s wrist; connected to nature through us and by that extent, a distant part of nature itself (Huesemann and Huesemann 4). Our technology cannot even exist in the first place without taking from the environment. Metal, for example, is both a naturally occurring material and a necessity in many technological applications (Dennehy). The issue is not so much that technology takes resources, but that it either doesn’t offer anything back or what it returns is detrimental to the ecosystem, such as excessive carbon dioxide (“Car Emissions and Global Warming”). It is in this sense that the thread becomes a tourniquet, and our attempts to combat technology-generated problems with more technology only creates a new array of problems. Antibiotics were developed to fight illness, but since then have given rise to antibiotic-resistant strains (Srisuknimit). Now scientists are looking at utilizing bacteriophages, viruses that attack bacteria, as a means to fend off these hardier microbes. But what consequences could come out of using bacteriophages? The truth is that we can’t possibly predict every single outcome, and it’s quite possible there will never be such a thing as technology without consequence. Have we gone the way of Sisyphus? Have we placed ourselves in an eternal cycle where we must keep creating new technology in order to deal with the problems created by preexisting developments? Maybe. Unless we’re willing to wait a few million years for the Earth to right itself, it’s likely that most of our problems will have to be solved with technology. Perhaps then, the solution is to not disregard technology entirely, but understand that it is fallible and minimize the associated risks. It certainly seems superior to blind faith. After all, if humans aren’t perfect, how can we expect our creation to be?

 

“Car Emissions and Global Warming.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/car-emissions-and-global-warming#.W5NtJitKjrc.

Dennehy, Kevin.“Study: Metals Used in High-Tech Products Face Future Supply Risks.” Yale School of Forestry Environmental Studies Blog, 23 Mar. 2015, environment.yale.edu/news/article/metals-used-in-hightech-products-face-future-supply-risks/.

Srisuknimit, Veerasak. “Fighting Fire With Fire: Killing bacteria with virus.” Science in the News, 2 Feb. 2018, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/bacteriophage-solution-antibiotics-problem/.

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