Technological Improvement


Technological Improvement Essay, Research Paper

Many people today assume automatically that technology is progress. Still, there

is some criticism of this view in America, partially because of 20th century

wars and arms races. Marx visited China in 1984, and it seemed as though the

Chinese were incredibly optimistic about western technology, and had little

sense any problems that technology might create. Where did this idea of

technology as progress come from, and where do the roots of distrust of

technology come from? Early Americans like Ben Franklin saw technology as a

means to achieving social and political liberation for the masses; it was part

of the revolt from authoritarianism. If some technology, especially the factory

system, would jeopardize these social and political goals, then that thing isn’t

worth its price in quality of life and should be rejected. As America became

more industrialized, the new industrialists who had both money and power came to

see the technology which they helped produce as an end in itself, or as a means

to more purely economic ends. The used phrases like "manifest destiny"

and "the conquest of nature" to help justify the increasing forces of

technology, even at the cost of the environment or Native Americans, all in the

name of "civilization." Technological advancement is seen as

advancement, period, regardless of what social and political changes it might

bring. There was a great deal of optimism that if we continue to make scientific

innovations, the rest–quality of life, and social and political ideals–will

take care of itself automatically. The "technocratic" ideal, which

sees everything as parts of the machine, began to take control, and humanitarian

goals like justice, freedom, and self-fulfillment became secondary. Technology

was accepted unquestioningly, and efficiency and scientific progress were the

main goals. This is the stage that the Chinese seem to be at, says Marx.

However, there was some backlash from the technocratic view. Emerson, Thoreau,

and others questioned whether we were remaking America for the better, and

whether we were beginning to almost worship technology. They questioned whether

new inventions were "improved means to unimproved ends" (p. 12), and

whether we’re becoming "the tools of our tools" (p. 12). However, it

was hard to take this too seriously when rapid improvements were being made in

the material conditions of life. Today, as we’re becoming aware of some of the

unintended effects of technology, many people are starting to wonder if

technology is always a good thing. Is technology better used as a tool for

social and political progress, or is it instead an end in itself? Moreover, can

technology cure all of our social and political problems (for example, SDI)? The

early notion of progress which saw technology as a mere means to more important

ends provided natural limits, and a way of assessing particular pieces of

technology. If, however, we view technology as an end in itself, we’re not led

to ever question its value or place any limits on it. Marx thinks we need to

consider what we want our technologies to accomplish. Does technology mean

progress? Progress toward what, Marx asks. What are our goals? When we answer

that question, we can see that technology does not automatically mean progress

toward those goals

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