Equilibrium and the tech-fix

Throughout history, the intrinsic human desire to adapt and thrive through the use of increasingly complex technological advancement has largely been what sets our species apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, alongside this perhaps insatiable human need innovate and create new technological solutions to every problem that one can imagine brings along with it the very real possibility that this very technology could make all of our problems a whole lot worse. When Douthwaite claims that social problems must ultimately be remedied with technological fixes, a large list of counter-arguments can be easily be generated. For one, there is not one simple set of social problems that apply broadly to all individuals; instead, there is a complex web of issues that vary wildly depending on region. Johnson addresses this directly when he writes that people who believe the technological fixes can fix all social problems “may fail to identify how the “problem” and “solution” have been framed by the designers, companies, governments, or media sources who promote them. […] Modern problems cannot be reduced to mere engineering solutions [because] human goals are diverse and constantly changing” (53-54). Michael and Joyce Huesemann also point out that we have gone through billions of years of evolution to get to the delicate equilibrium with ourselves and with nature that we find ourselves existing in today. They argue that this equilibrium has already been tipped out of balance, and that “the extinction of thousands of species as well as many indigenous human cultures is an example of the irreversible changes brought about by the current pace of technological development and the enormous magnitude of technological exploitation” (9).

This delicate equilibrium is exactly why technological fixes to social and environmental systems can have such severely negative implications. The “butterfly effect” described by chaos theory applies here, in that a very small change to this equilibrium (e.g. the metaphorical flap of a butterfly’s wings) could result in far-reaching unintended consequences. This certainly doesn’t mean that we should halt all technological progress, but rather we should recognize the technology doesn’t hold the answer to all of our problems, and that natural selection is still required for us to remain in a healthy equilibrium with nature.