Somehow, all those bright young IT people have got it in their heads that more and better computer and internet stuff will fix the world. A noble thought, but technology won’t even touch the real problems of the world, because the real problems dwell in a different realm. A completely different magisterium, as it were. All the world’s major problems are people problems. Technology can sometimes help, but the solutions—if there are any—can only come from a different realm entirely.
And just what are the real problems of the world? They are fairly easy to list, and everyone’s list is guaranteed to generate disagreement. These items appear at the top of my personal list.
- Climate change
- Xenophobia and prejudice
Science and technology have made astonishing strides, and the rate of innovation seems to be accelerating. But the real problems are the same ones we have had since the dawn of agricultural society: relationships between groups of humans, and the troubles they cause.
Technology won’t even touch
the real problems of the world.
Edward Snowden drew our attention to metadata programs being used by the government, supposedly for anti-terrorism purposes. One would be naive to suppose that was the only purpose, or to suppose that it was effective, let alone that metadata is the only thing collected. Recall, if you will, that the FBI, the CIA, and many local police forces have long devoted considerable attention to law abiding citizens exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to dissent, often filming them and many times beating them with truncheons, zapping them with pepper spray or stun guns, arresting them, and usually trying to prevent citizens from filming them—the cops—as they misbehave. They have also been busy with espionage on labor unions, various progressive groups, and certain journalists. These same agencies have amassed a list of millions of Americans who are not allowed to fly, for reasons they will not divulge and which cannot be challenged.
The techies have a touching faith that the internet and the new app they are working on will make a real difference. Their new gadgetry usually is of some benefit, at least to other techies. But people remain people, the big problems remain stubbornly unsolved, and the new supply of ignorant young people is continuous. Besides, new technology means nothing to the people who can’t afford it.
This tendency to believe all problems can be solved (particularly by computers) is called “solutionism”, which is decried by many, including Evgeny Morozov in his sardonically titled book, To Save Everything Click Here. He makes a good point that proponents of a particular solution virtually never consider other possibilities than the one they believe will do the trick.
All the world’s major problems
are people problems.
As I have said numerous times, climate change will in time make all other human problems irrelevant, because it is far too late to avert it, and the change to the planet is quite likely to be severe, and in time catastrophic. But we fail to do something about it not because of inadequate technology, but because of reactionary politics, and our inability to even agree as separate nations, let alone as the worldwide race of humans, that we should do something. The newest killer app might have some effect, but it won’t matter, because a bunch of Republican politicians and executives in polluting industries in the most polluting country in the world don’t “believe in” global climate change, and are doing their best to prevent any action at all. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it”.
I have also said many times it doesn’t matter what these fools believe, because we see almost daily evidence that global warming is worse than we thought. A good example is a new study showing that sea level can be expected to rise 2.3 meters (7 feet) in coming centuries for every degree Celsius of warming. More immediately, a disturbing satellite finding at the summer solstice showed that the entire state of Alaska was clear and sunny, with virtually no snow, and some temperatures as high as the 90s. This has never happened before, and it rightfully scares a lot of people. But not Republicans.
Characteristics like corruptibility, greed, and inequality will not yield to any amount of massaging from the computer world. The problems are far more difficult than that, and solutions to these kinds of problems will determine our future.
Corruption, greed, and inequality
will not yield to the computer world.
The world of the young in the West, including the hipster crowd, has become one of constant “connection”, via iPhone and a slew of other electronic gadgets. Even so, it’s an insular industry, IT, one that speaks its own language and reads its own news. They read all about the latest developments, but “Wired” won’t tell them what’s going on. In reality, they stand zero chance of solving the most important world problems.