My interest in development began as a humanitarian impulse to experience using your time for the benefit of others (which was highly addictive to be honest). When I began to get more involved, I noticed something: development is not about feeling right; development is about thinking right. Asking the right questions is the main goal of this career path. If we cannot be assertive in our questions, we will not find the correct answers.
Let’s keep in mind that our work is unequivocally with people and for people. We have a great responsibility in our hands. It is true that the damage is not in the immediate horizon as it would be with a doctor, or an engineer. Our mistakes take time to be noticed, sometimes too much time for us to notice. Reviewing the questions we make a lot of times is something of extreme importance and that is why discussion is an essential part. I therefore want you to think about the following question but in order to bring some structure to the arguments I will establish some facts and ideas about the concept.
Technology is one of the ideas that today shape the world, the world has become so familiar that now we imply the meaning of it and we are sure that we know the meaning, I get surprised when I start the research of this note and I find out that technology is not even well defined from one to another dictionary.
Technology is defined as:
“The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation of and use of technical means and the interrelation with life, society, and the environment, drawing upon such subjects as industrial arts, engineering, applied science and pure science.”
The idea of technology is not only a definition, it is a reality. Technology began when our ancestors understood that their only advantage against claws, size, weight and strength was their intelligence. The creation of the first artifact was the beginning of technology and it evolved fast; beginning with a simple stick and a pointed stone to create a hunting tool, the discovery of how the fire could be created, and the wheel.
But today from my point of view we have taken it too far and too far wrong. I am a little pessimistic but let’s face it, our generation is drowning in technology. I think we have lost the initial focus of technology which was ensure survival and improve the human condition. Now we use it to manipulate other things such as speed of food growth, quantity of production and even interaction between people.
Ethics of technology
Technology is rarely questioned today and it is seen as beneficial and is even sometimes confused with development. But the reality is that not all technological advances are not always beneficial for development. The first example I can think of is genetically modified food.
At first thought it is a great thing to produce a twice bigger apple from a tree one year old than a small apple from a 5 years old tree. The problem is that the apple does not have the real properties of an apple anymore, we don’t understand genetics fully to equal the properties of a ‘organic’ or not genetically modified apple. In the long term it can become even harmful for the health of people by not fitting the nutritional requirements, and by the increase the real quantity of apple that each person should consume to meet the original nutritional properties. That is why we are now capable of paying a higher price for an organic apple than an apple with an unknown process of growth.
Another aspect which could be harmful is the early use of technology. The idea of electronic devices for young kids have made them very intuitive, if you give a five year old a tablet to play with, there is a guarantee that the child will find a way to play the games already installed in the tablet. The downside to this is that we are losing social skills. As proof of this, next time that you meet with your friends notice how much time you spend with them actually and how much you spend looking at your cellphone. As I said above somethings are too subtle for you to notice and it takes time but every minute you spend watching the screen is a minute you lose of real human interaction. One of the many quotes attributed to Einstein in popular culture is ‘I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.’ With this idea, it is confirmed how today technology is making us useless and the principle that technology’s main function was for, is now opposite; technology is making us lazy and unskilled. When it comes to social media we need to understand that it is great for some things but it also affects our social skills, it is always easier to send a message to somebody, than taking time to talk face to face.
Our field does not fall short for this idea of technology, I remember holding a talk with two friends about drones that would be able to bring bottled water to areas struck by natural disasters. In the beginning it sounded like something positive and helpful. But somehow this technology impact should be studied deeper because it has a lot of unidentified implications. A robot will fail to notice of another person to point the needs that are not being covered, a robot or a machine cannot understand the necessity of clothing, illness and of course empathy. The distance that it creates from person and community is created by this non- human intervention and relying into drones to bring assistance. Instead of having brigades of people providing water and supporting the people who have been affected in the disaster we would have robots that are not capable to uplift the communities’ spirit the way that human interactions do.
With all these ideas what do you think?
Is technology synonymous with development or is it not a necessary aspect to have in development? Can we create a mechanism in order to identify whether or not technology is being used in a harmful or beneficial manner? Most importantly, how can we better incorporate technology to improve the development of a community?