Re: Modern Technology: Out of Control?

Wesley Schwein (
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 01:56:02 -0500 (EST)

On Tue, 20 Jan 1998, Weslake, Brad BG wrote:

> Why do you think the image of modern technology being 'out of
> control' has such a strong appeal? In what ways does technology appear
> difficult to control? For some of the problems you identify, explore
> their implications for government policy-makers. Provide examples for
> your arguments.

As Dan Clemmensen already noted, technology _is_ out of control in the
sense that the development of technology as a whole by our civilization is
neither controlled by any particular agency nor can it be known and
understood in its entirety. The same holds true for other creative
endeavors: there is more art, more music, and more literature in the world
than anyone can hope to be familiar with, much less appreciate.
Furthermore, all such areas of creativity are the product of particular
individuals pursuing their own goals and listening to their own muses; no
agency or group directs where creative effort goes. This is best so.

The difference (or at least A difference) between the expansion of the
body of the arts and the development of technology is that technological
changes can have direct, profound, and unpredictable effects in all other
areas of human life, with economic changes first. Most people don't like
change, aren't willing to change, and think of change not as an
opportunity for growth and career advancement but as a threat to their
rut. Untill we (as a species) develop a social counterpart to an ESS, one
accomodating ever-changing technology, I suspect this will remain the

Moderately relevant annecdote:

Microfilm viewers are not particularly advanced technology; I'd say
they're about as hard to use as a car stereo. Yet in the years I worked
in my university library's microfilm department, I saw literally thousands
of people who were plainly intimidated by those bulky screen-and-spool
machines. They were unfamiliar technology and therefore a threat to the
ego, a challange to their ability to navigate the world and deal with its

I remember one particular patron whose viewer had repeatedly jammed when
printing. I suggested she try another viewer, a newer model and one less
prone to jams. She actually said, "Oh no, I don't want to learn something
NEW!" Excuse me? Why are you in college?


The widespread fear of change makes me wonder if widespread
implementation of technologies such as cloning, genetic alteration of
humans, IA/AI integration and dramatic life extension aren't going to have
to wait until the colonization of the solar system has begun. Space
migration (and, to a lesser extent, undersea migration) will offer new
opportunities for social experiements unfettered by existing governments.
That assumes, of course, that one of the more eschatalogical models of
Singularity hasn't intervened.

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Wesley Schwein Sober, drunk, -unk, astonishment.