Sunday, January 28, 2007


David Brin's New Year's Day post discusses (among other things) "'tech-refusniks' who - for many reasons - seem prone to reject the benefits of high technology in an onrushing scientific age":

Some who despise this era relish a return to lifestyles that were less democratized or flattened by the "great equalizer" of mass access to tools. [...] At another extreme are neo-feudalists, who don't mind technology and comfort, but resent the fact that the masses are getting almost as many toys and rights and privileges as aristocrats, nowadays. How much better to have an old-fashioned pyramid of privilege, with a few on top lording it over many, below. But that won't happen if the masses are technologically empowered. Hence, much of the propaganda of fear, trying to promote refusnikism on a very broad scale.

From another angle, consider the effect of labor saving devices in the home. Today, a vast majority of Americans can avoid drudgery in ways that - formerly - only the very rich knew. Human servants used to perform the tasks now done by refrigerators and cars and microwaves and vacuum cleaners, etc. All of thistechnologically-driven equality seems to rob all our advances of their sense of wonder. This is prime territory for romantics. If everybody - the masses - has something, then it cannot be good or beautiful or worthwhile.

At the opposite extreme are folks who worry deeply about the COST of over-dependence upon technological crutches. This includes people who are concerned with the ecological damage done by wasteful-wastrel masses who seem bent on consuming simply for consumption's sake.

I don't know why Brin seems to have overlooked what seem to me to be the single largest group opposed to technology: leftists who believe that increasing technology means less social/economic equality, possibly even a lower standard of living for those at the bottom. For example, they worry about workers losing their jobs because of automation, and poor children who (because they are uneducated, thanks to government schools) will be at a greater disadvantage in a higher-tech society.

There are a number of rational ways to deal with these issues, including reforming public education and reforming welfare and the rest of the "social safety net." The solutions are relatively simple (although politically difficult, of course). But my confusion is why Brin didn't mention this concern. The only possibilities I can think of are that he either considers it part of the "folks who worry deeply about the COST" or else that he is doesn't realize that some people don't share his belief that technology helps level society.


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