Does technology necessarily improve the quality of people’s lives?

            Science and its application, technology, are definitely tools mankind has utilized over its long years of existence – conversions from writing letters to sending emails, and from the Gutenberg press to the Internet have all been hailed to have been improvements in the quality of life in the history of man. Generally speaking, the explorations of the boundaries of the human race and the world we live in have generally developed beneficially for us. However, there have been some harmful impacts we must also take into consideration, because whether the technology does improve the quality of living of humans is dependent upon the manner in which it is used. Therefore, though it does have its positive benefits, technology does not necessarily improve the conditions we live in, or the emotional comfort we experience.

            One may argue that the aspect of communication has been well developed, because the creation of emailing and social networking sites allows humans to transcend geographical boundaries to communicate with each other. However, we need to recognize that efficiency of communication does not necessarily equate to the quality of conversation we have. In fact, it can be harmful in multiple aspects. First, the fact that we can communicate online gives the veneer that we no longer need face-to-face interaction. Despite this, it is the real, physical interaction that really draws relationships closer, because we bond over the physical times we spend together, and understand each other better through body language – empirical studies have shown that up to 60 percent of our impressions of a person are formed by observing their body language. When such a major aspect is left out in online discussions, we tend to get further away from each other. Second, the ability to post comments at the click of a button makes us all the more careless, in posting insensitive comments about race and politics, which often offend others. There have been many instances where young children, whose cognitive function have yet to develop and thus cannot rationalize as clearly as adults, misuse the Internet. For example, a boy of a mere thirteen years of age was arrested for threatening to “bomb marina Bay” online. Not only does technology draw people further apart in their relationships, it also increases our possibility of being rash, because of the over-efficient nature of the technology available.

            One may also think that with all the scientific research, experimentation, and findings, we would have nurtured our environment healthily. Unfortunately, the answer to that claim is an adamant “no”. On the other hand, it is as Alan Eddison says, “Modern technology owes ecology an apology”. With all the coal plants, cars on the roads and factories spewing out smoke, the environment has been harmed far more than it has been benefitted. Ultimately, the generation of excessive methane and carbon dioxide has caused global warming, which directly affects lives by increasing the concentration of UV rays in the Sun’s rays, that can give us skin cancer over long exposure periods. Increases of sea temperatures have indirectly caused us harm as well. Not only are entire biodiversities harmed when coral reefs die, fish have been shown to migrate to cooler regions, away from seashores. In fact, repeated scientific studies have come to a consensus that an increase of just 2 degrees Celcius of sea temperatures is sufficient in causing a significant fish migration pattern. This trend affects the fishermen of nations who depend heavily on the marine fish industry, most viscerally seen in nations like Japan and Taiwan. Clearly, the products of our technology have generated more problems than benefits, even in the environmental aspect, which invariably affects the quality of people’s lives adversely.

            The strongest proponents of technology argue that medicine is where the benefits of science are truly seen. To some degree, this is true – live expectancies have indeed gone up in many societies of the world, with rates of cholera and malaria going down. However, if we really examine the problem, we realize that there is much more to be done. To begin with, we need to understand that the premise of furthering medical technology is that those who are poor must have access to these technologies, and we see that this is often untrue, in many cases. In the example of Plumpy’nut, a proclaimed nutritious food for people in undeveloped countries that only requires water to work, corporations often jack up prices in an attempt tot gain more profit for their selfish, personal consumption, while neglecting poor families scrounging all their savings to buy just one or two tins of the product. New Zealand GM food giant Monterro has discovered a way to develop juicier, plumper tomatoes, at low costs, yet alters prices to exorbitant degrees, by virtue of the fact that it is a monopoly in the industry. While it is undisputable that in this instance, technology can indeed improve the quality of people’s lives, we need to acknowledge that technology discriminates against poorer people at a fundamental level, because we need profit-motivated corporations to market these technologies. An indisputable harm of technology, then, rises in the military sphere. To begin with, a benefit to the military – having more F16 jets, plutonium nuclear warheads and Leopard tanks – is only a detriment to human kind, because the inherent definition of a good military is its ability to obliterate enemies, who are unequivocally humans as well. When we examine rogue nations, we realize the extent of harm that technology can bring about. Iran’s insistence on developing a nuclear weapon so that it can “wipe Israel off the surface of the earth” is a massive bargaining chip in negotiations, North Korea’s increasing missile arsenal has worsened ties between the two peninsulas, and Bashaar Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Dasmascus, Syria, has led to the death of a thousand innocent civilians. Even for nations like the United States of America, which supposedly has a goo dtrack record, has thoroughly blundered in the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars, causing unnecessary bloodshed and deaths. At the end of the day, the brunt of the conflict between societies and technology is brought down savagely upon the people. Clearly, dying or being mutilated does not contribute to any improvement to a person’s quality of life.

            Though cliché, the famous line from Spiderman “with great power, comes great responsibility”, is very true. In a world where knowledge is power and our endeavors in scientific discovery have given Man knowledge, there is a great responsibility for us to utilize that knowledge to the best possible degree. The problem is that the definition of “the best possible degree” is very arbitrary, as one Man’s meat may be another’s poison. Our discoveries have generated many ethical dilemmas, upon which we are hesitant to make a decision. Our complete sequencing of the human genome by the Human Genome Project does help to identify stick-cell disease, possible cases of future Alzheimer’s and the like, but sometimes knowledge can be deadly, even literally. In a report done by a doctor, it was commented that it is very hard to decide to tell a mother that her child would be born with Tay Sach’s disease, which causes the brain to degenerate and a layer of plaque to form over the baby’s brain, effectively guaranteeing his death by the time he is four. Should people suffering from cancer be allowed to be euthanised, to save him from great pain? Should we tell couples information of their child’s gender in advance, only to have them abort the baby? Should we allow cloning for the harvesting of organs, so that the thousands of people on the kidney transplant waiting list can be cured? These are all ethical dilemmas that unfortunately are not black and white. Sometimes, it is said, ignorance is bliss, and science and technology sometimes does nothing to facilitate that bliss.

            Eventually, the question of whether science and technology improves the quality of people’s lives boils down to the question of how the technology s used, who uses it, and to what ends is the technology used – it is a complex question that has no definite answer. However the existence of many abuses of technology only makes us ponder over whether the knowledge that science provides, and the chance to make full use of that technology present, is really beneficial for us. Perhaps, it is as Jean Rostand, acclaimed French scientist says “science has made us Gods, even before we are worthy of being men”. Science indeed has left us many problems we can only hope to resolve. Hence, the best possible direction we can work towards is to make use of that scientific knowledge we have to resolve our problems, and to set appropriate regulations on the created technologies.


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Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.