1 January 2020
Technology can be used to understand the world, protect us, or facilitate human interaction.
Generally, use of technology that facilitates human interaction increases power at the expense of flexibility. By flexibility, I refer to the knowledge and ability of people to understand and respond to their environments. Riding a bicycle allows you to travel greater distances than you could while walking. The trade-off is that you’re less able to navigate obstacles. When using an automobile, it’s possible to travel greater distances than could be done on a bicycle. Automobiles are less capable of responding to obstacles than bikes are. Furthermore, in an automobile you are insulated from the outside world, losing valuable information about the environment. In a plane you don’t even really see where you’re going, but you can travel farther than ever before.
When talking with someone face-to-face, you not only get information from their words, but from their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. You use information about your environment, and the person’s background, and use that to put their behavior in context. Writing someone a letter, speaking with someone on the telephone, or sending someone a video, allow for correspondence at greater distances than face-to-face conversations permit. The trade-off is you lose lots of contextual information that adds understanding to conversations.
Technology has a resource trade-off. When you make something, you’re depleting the earth’s resources. It’s possible the earth can regenerate those resources faster than they are depleted, but you’re depleting the earth nonetheless. You’re also allocating those resources towards that particular end, and not to make something else.
We may decide that the trade-offs a particular technology are worth it. But we still always make trade-offs.