Thursday, February 17, 2011

On the gaps in technology and obsolescence

I fail to understand where our society is headed. It doesn't seem to me that there will be a point at which we decide that we are at a happy place. Technology plays a crucial role in defining our society, as I have written about in previous posts. Here are some thoughts on why technology as we think of it today necessarily results in environmental harm and ever more amounts of waste and degradation.

There is a spectrum of technology, ranging from the simple machines like levers and wheels and pulleys, to the more esoteric and comlicated Blackberrys and iPads. These technologies necessarily allow us to do something we either couldn't do before, or allow us to do something we could do before, just differently, mechanically, electronically, or what have you. Technology allows us to go farther, faster. A widely diffuse technology, such as cell phones nowadays, defines a new norm. There is an internalisation of technology into social constructs, such that the newer social construct necessarily depends on the existence of that technology. But since technologies and products are designed and constructed by a thoroughly reductionist philosophy, there are always things that are not considered in design - failures between the interfaces of different subsystems, failures of fully comprehending the environmental and social impacts, and failures of understanding what happens to technology after it is obsolete. (These things/issues, I believe, constitute the risk of those technologies.) These are the gaps that are left unfilled by the technology. One of two things can happen now - a failure may result after which the technology is improved, or the gap is identified by a technologist and a new product is developed to make money selling the new technology. All the while, new social norms are being constructed; society moves away from where it was. Once society has a rudimentary understanding of the consequences of technology, the gaps and deficiencies are exposed, and the users of the technology want the newer version of the technology (or technologists convince people they want the newer technology). The huge issue with human technologies nowadays is that they necessitate virgin resource extraction. Old technologies are not, and at some level cannot be, designed for retooling, or upgrade. At the same time, since there are failures of designing for the end of life of the technologies, obsolete technologies are disposed of in unsavoury ways.

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