Having concerns about new technology is part of being human
In recent months or years, have you found yourself concerned with how new technology – like ChatGPT or gene editing – might impact your life and our futures?
New technology is being introduced into our day-to-day lives at such a rapid pace lately and it can be kinda scary. Not to mention that we already exposed to an unprecedented amount of information, decisions and unknowns each day already, at a time when many experts believe we are becoming less tolerant of the uncertainty that perpetuates our modern lives (hence rising rates of anxiety).
But in times like these, we can take comfort in HISTORY.
I have been doing research on this topic for months now and here are some insights that I hope others might find as insightful and helpful as I did.
Human beings have a LONG history of questioning, banning, being fearful of and outright rejecting new technology and products for a variety of reasons (that were not always about health and safety.) A few examples: coffee, the printing press, light bulbs, airplanes, electricity, microwaves (the list goes on). In the early 1980s, early models of cell phones came with warning labels; only 20 years ago, minors in Europe were instructed to hold their cell phones at a distance when using them, for safety measures.
According to Harvard scientist and academic Calestous Juma (who wrote “Technology and Its Enemies”), human beings’ concerns about, and rejections of new technology are often framed as concerns about human health, environmental considerations and moral values, but these concerns actually mask deeper, socio-economic concerns. These include perceptions that new technology will only benefit a small group of people (i.e. corporations) while putting a larger group at risk, or that new technologies will offer only short-term benefits but longer-term risks.
Throughout history, the strongest opposition to new technology has come when people feel their cultural identities are being threatened. “Society tends to reject new technologies when they substitute for, rather than augment, our humanity” Juma wrote.
It’s important to acknowledge that our concerns about new technology are often sincere and legitimate BUT they can also be based on fear and our human tendency to resist change and uncertainty. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. ― H.P. Lovecraft, 1927
The overall lesson I’ve learned from this research is that it’s important to question our opposition to change, understand the psychological components of it, and to challenge it with intellect, curiosity and humility.
"Our generation has inherited more opportunities to transform the world than any other. That's a cause for optimism, but only if we're mindful of our choices." (Juma, 2016)