Re: Modern Technology: Out of Control?

Charlie Stross (
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 09:38:12 +0000

On Tue, Jan 20, 1998 at 01:01:41PM +1100, 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.

A strong suggestion ... go root out a copy of FUTURE SHOCK by Alvin
Toffler, pub. 1970 or thereabouts. Read it.

Yes, the book is obsolescent. Yes, things have moved on a long way since
it was written (and published). Many of the themes in it seem dated,
quaint, or just plain silly. But it lends a valuable perspective --
namely, it shows what attitudes to technology being 'out of control'
were like in 1970. People were feeling bewildered because of the rate
of change of technology back then. The anti-science shtick was visible
already. Things have accelerated a lot since 1970, and some new themes
have emerged, but the broad picture seems to me to be consistent, and
it can be summed up quite simply: most people can't adapt easily to

As far as the central concept -- technology being 'out of control' -- I
suppose the only valid response is that it was never _under_ control in
the first place. Technological progress this century has almost all been
driven by market forces, which are blind to long-term prospects (else
we wouldn't have had leaded petrol or CFCs in aerosol cannisters -- or
microprocessors or aeroplanes for that matter). Moreover, government
policy regulators might _want_ to regulate the social impact of new
technologies (I doubt they could give a damn for technology in isolation,
were it not for the effect on their constituents), but they can't predict
where the next outbreak will occur. (If they could, they'd be investing
in it themselves, as individuals.)

Have fun telling 'em it's time to surrender ...

-- Charlie