It’s repeated so often that few of us even stop to question its validity: “Technology is neutral. It’s only as good or as bad as those using it.”
Here are 5 reasons why this is far from true:
Thanks to the automobile culture, for example, in the 20th century, an area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania was paved in the US. This means highways, off-ramps, parking lots, etc.—each replacing countless eco-systems.
2. Technology Leaves Behind Lots of Toxic Waste
Three million tons of household electronics tossed by Americans in 2006. There are 300 million obsolete computers in the US today, and only 50% of a computer is recycled. The non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead. Seventy percent of the entire toxic waste stream of landfills is e-waste.
3. Technology Spawns Alienation
We have social media, but we’re sacrificing social skills. “With the present means of long distance mass communication, sprawling isolation has proved an even more effective method of keeping a population under control, henceforth a one-way world,” writes Lewis Mumford. To green anarchists, technology is “more than wires, silicon, plastic, and steel. It is a complex system involving division of labor, resource extraction, and exploitation for the benefit of those who implement its process. The interface with and result of technology is always an alienated, mediated, and distorted reality.”
4. Technology is Not Available to Everyone
In Australia, 60.4% of the population has access to the Internet. In Asia, that number is 19.4%. Pretty stark difference, huh? Get ready for this one: In North America, 74.2% of the population has access to the Internet. In Africa, that number is 6.8%. If you think it can’t get worse than that, try this on for size: In six African nations—Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone—only 3 to 5% of people can access electricity. In fact, 79% of the Third World (1.5 billion people) have no access to electricity.
5. Technology Results in Environmental Racism
While the developed world quenches its insatiable thirst for the newest and latest gizmo, much of the subsequent e-waste is exported to countries like India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana. “The pollution and related health problems in countries where e-waste is dumped will increase massively as the amount of electronics used worldwide is growing exponentially and the number of countries used as dump sites will grow,” says Kim Schoppink, Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace.
Thanks to our myriad techno-fetishes, we civilized humans happily delegate such tedious tasks as learning how to spell, remembering phone numbers, doing math in our heads, memorizing directions, or even walking up a single flight of stairs to technology so we can have time to focus on the truly important stuff, like…um…well…uh…removing 90% of the large fish from the ocean, perhaps?
Take-home message: Technology can never be neutral and industrial civilization can never be sustainable.