According to Nand Mulchandani, the incoming CIA Chief Technology Officer, “Technology is eating the world.” I'm not so sure I agree, but I think I understand his point. There is plenty of technology in the world, and it does seem to be filling every nook and cranny of our modern existence. And there is, of course, a notable amount of human suffering facilitated or exacerbated by various forms of technology. But I don’t think it's the technology chewing up the world as we know it. I think it’s us (like it always is).
In some instances we’re using technology to stand-in for our humanity. Outsourcing important and challenging human decisions to tech built from our bias in an attempt to avoid that very same bias. In other cases we’re using technology to chip away at the foundations of our own humanity. Filling our feeds with unattainable lifestyles and body shapes. Reducing our interactions with people we don't already know to just a few judgmental sentences in a comment feed.
In the most extreme iterations, we use technology designed to bring us together to drive us farther apart. We construct our understanding of the world around us from collections of out-of-context soundbites curated by the snake-oil sellers of our time. Politicians promise a future that doesn't suck without explaining none of us will be able to afford it. Influencers prey on our human desire for belonging to peddle unfounded fears, swelling the ranks of hate groups. And we buy-in to all of it. Because the technology and the techniques were designed to work.
It's not the technology's fault. It didn't design itself to take advantage of us for things that make us human. It's the fault of the creators. It's the fault of the funders. It's the fault of regulators for not stepping in to mitigate. And it's all of our fault for creating a society in which this way of using technology results in such substantial rewards. If we had a different social, political, and economic structure, we might have a different relationship with technology.
As it stands now, people in positions of power or authority seem content to blame the tech itself for the problems we continue to cause ourselves. It's much easier than actually addressing the roots of our collective self-induced suffering. If it's something external like technology, then we can avoid introspection. If it's how we are humaning then it will take personal work to solve, and that is generally a challenging and uncomfortable process.
A similar avoidance of internal reflection by authority plays-out over the five season story arc of a serialized novel called Bookburners. It takes place in modern times where a rag-tag team of folks from different backgrounds work for a secret division of the Vatican, managing magical outbursts around the world. They fight evil demons, save people from terrible fates, and gradually come to terms with the fact that more magic is seeping into the world than it used to.
The intensely conservative leadership of the Societas Librorum Occultorum thinks magic is eating the world. Their reaction is to lock it away, and destroy any part that can't be contained. One of the central questions explored through the series is whether magic should be controlled and contained (which may not actually be possible), or whether the people trying to keep the world safe from the harmful effects of magic should instead embrace the rising tide and learn how to work with and harness its awesome power.
In the story, we learn the existence of magic isn't the problem by itself. It's application is what determines whether it is benign or problematic. It all comes down to whether the being using it is harming or helping the world around them. Just like technology in the real world. Technology's existence is not a problem. How we use it is what makes it a problem or a solution (or a really cool toy).
The tide is rising. Just like the magic in Bookburners, more and more technology is seeping into our everyday lives. I don’t see that ebbing any time soon. And I’m not sure it needs to. Technology is an amazing and powerful tool and it can do a lot of good in the world. People Fixing the World is an entire podcast devoted to stories of people using technology and ingenuity to make the world better. If we are thoughtful and willing to self-examine, I think we can harness the awesome power of our magical technology and use it for good instead of evil.
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.