Can Technology Solve everything? The Modern Myth of Prometheus And The Limits Of Technological-fix

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Two distinctive idealisms are currently in a struggle and one is not necessary for helping the other. In one side, we can see the failure of capitalism and how the economic model founded in the 17th century is reaching its own limits. The usage of the planet resources are getting to extremes and many people are calling for an economic slowdown. In the other side, many people tend to think that technology and human ingenuity can fix everything and that we will survive the menace of the 6th massive extinction this planet would see. Can Technology fix everything or is this a modern mirage?

1- From Prometheus To The Founding Mythology Of Technological-Fix.

Prometheus-mythology

When Prometheus stole the fire from the gods to give it to humanity, it was done with the purposes of enabling progress and civilization. To do so, Prometheus tricked the gods and Zeus himself to steal the fire and to offer it to all men. For this, he would be punished eternally. The interesting aspect of this myth is the fact that technology (here the fire) would bring a considerable improvement to people’s lives. It is also a certain idea of rebellion against despotism as Prometheus gave power to the people rather than keeping it to the exclusive usage of the Olympian gods. This is not new as men tend to think his ingenuity would always get him rid of problems. This myth is for sure the founding element of the belief that progress is a good thing. It helped men see further, dream big and probably go from the dark caves to the moon. But is it all worth it?

From Darkness To Enlightenment – Progress In The Making

Progress became a strong engine to make humanity do steps forward. This is what brought men out of the Middle Ages. This period in time was by far one of the darkest moments in history. From human living conditions to science and knowledge, things did not advance much during this time. It was also the time of many battles and many diseases. In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. During this dark period, the world and humanity did a step back on its evolution:

  • Population declined
  • Counterurbanisation
  • The collapse of centralized authority
  • Invasions and mass migrations of tribes
  • High mortality due to epidemics (Black Plague)
  • Short Life expectancy age (<40 years old)
World-Population-since-1-C-E

With the arrival of printing (technology), knowledge could spread and communications developed. It set the premises of the discovery era during which the world would see a new light. That is why we say that after this dark moment, came the enlightenment and with this amazing period came progress at all levels. The Renaissance was a fervent period of European cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages. Generally described as taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, the Renaissance promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature and art. It was also an interesting moment for Science and innovation. Another important development was in the process for discovery, the scientific method, focusing on empirical evidence and the importance of mathematics while discarding Aristotelian science. Early and influential proponents of these ideas included Copernicus, Galileo, and Francis Bacon. The idea of progress as a main positive thing for society started planting its seeds.

The Idea Of Technical Progress, As A Step forward for Civilization

When Francis Bacon wrote The New Atlantis in the 17th century, he was probably bringing interesting critics of society and especially Christianism. But he also introduced the idea of technological and scientific progress as an important tool to push society into a better future. Francis Bacon proposes a vision of future human discovery and knowledge, which is a very aspirational vision of humankind. In the book, there is Salomon’s house, a sort of utopic university where experiments are conducted to understand and conquer nature. All these in order to collect knowledge to the betterment of society.

The-New-Atlantis-Francis-Bacon

Two centuries later, the world would see a massive change thanks to the Industrial Revolution that started during the second half of the 18th century until the end of the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban. The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. Technological progress helped to shift from manual work to industrialization. This helped to increase consistently the standard of living for the general population which has never happened before in the history of the world in such a large scale. The industrial revolution became the anti-chamber of modern thinking and the culture of progress. The 20th century started with the promise that mankind will grow and evolve thanks to its ingenuity.

Technological-Fix, The Birth Of A New Religion

In 1923, Dr Alvin Weinberg, the Director of Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, asked a very interesting question: will technology solve all our social problems? For sure his speech was clearly to say YES and he would go even further by affirming that engineers could eventually supplant scientists, policy-makers, lawmakers and even religious leaders. Technology would become the new god. To be honest I do not think Alvin Weinberg invented the concept but for sure he was the first one to employ the words “Technological Fix” as the main ideology.

Alvin-Weinberg-technological-fix
Alvin Weinberg
Technological-fix-by-Alvin-Weinberg

Another interesting fact on the arrival of the Technological-fix ideology is the fact that society embraced a new era of consumerism and this new problem-solving philosophy matches perfectly this new era. Our attraction to innovative and technological solutions is a key feature to improve our daily life. It goes along with other strong concepts like entrepreneurship, self-confidence and dynamism. Being a problem-solver thanks to technology reflects a very positive image, good for the business and for your own self-esteem. Technological-fix is a strong belief in which technology and innovation will solve all our problems, other wise nothing will.

Humanity has come a long way since the appearance of modern man. Giant steps were done generally thanks to the introduction of progress and innovation. From the moment men found fire and started building tools to the moment men put a step in the moon, the feeling of technology advancement became a strong pillar of civilization evolution and hope.

2- Technology Made Miracles And Became The New God

Let’s not see the devil everywhere. Technology has a great utility and it is very inspiring. It can also motivate investors and capital to develop new solutions that create jobs, wealth and allow to maintain a certain constant evolution of humanity. Not all is bad, at the contrary. When technology gets at the service of a cause, it can be very powerful.

Renewable Energy “Bought Us” Some Extra Time And Is Forcing A Certain Habits Change.

From the Oil crisis in the ’70s to the pollution levels our planet are experiencing, technology helped to maintain a strong economic development thanks to renewable energy. Solar panels, wind turbines or the usage of tidal power, technology brought available new sources of energy to help manage the demand. Solar power is anticipated to become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, with solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power contributing 16 and 11 per cent to the global overall consumption, respectively. Is this a good thing? We know that anything related to photo-cells, batteries and other clean energy options might also request other efforts in terms of production. We know for example that an electric car, like Tesla or a hybrid from Toyota, will need to drive for at least 8 years in order to absorb its carbon footprint (from production and extraction of rare metals). So if you change to a new car every three to four years, it is not worth it.

Panneaux-Solaires-Sonar-pannels

Food Engineering Trying To Feed The World

According to UNICEF, there are 356’000 new babies born each day in the planet. This is bringing the world population to reach soon 10 Billion people by 2100. There is a certain preoccupation to feed the planet with limited resources. Technology tried to bring solutions and alternatives to normal agriculture. Two main important and interesting development in this field: hydraponics and Genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Hydroponics is a method of food production to increase productivity, in an “artificial environment.” The soil is replaced by a mineral solution that is left around the plant roots. Removing the soil allows a greater crop yield, as there is less chance of soil-borne diseases, as well as being able to monitor plant growth and mineral concentrations. This innovative technology to yield more food reflects the ability for humans to develop their way out of a problem, portraying a technological fix. We can also say that we miss the connection to nature, the contact with the land as we dematerialize the natural environment in order to play god and master the elements. All these with one single purpose: productivity.

hydroponics

GMO crops can create many advantages, such as higher food fields, added vitamins and increased farm profits. Depending on the modifications, they may also introduce the problem of increasing resistance to pesticides and herbicides, which may inevitably precipitate the need for further fixes in the future. Since the invention of GMO and its claim to exterminate starvation around the world, we can say that it is far from achieving the main mission. The industry of GMO has never been so advanced and still, people are starving. Every second there is one person in the world dying of starvation and the United Nations considers that there are one billion people suffering from hunger in the world. So we are far from the mission given initially to GMO crops and food.

GMO-Crops

Technology As A Health Guardian

Another major improvement in the past 100 years is health and the fact that modern medicine has increased people’s life range and facilitated the cure of several diseases. Today, technocrats believe technology can improve medicine by better management of big data. Individuals being more and more monitored can provide better information to doctors who can give a better diagnostic. We start talking about personalized medicine and targetted pharmaceuticals (made to act on a person’s own DNA). The quality of the data is still low and considerations are complex as by utilizing big data, you forget to consider the individual from multiple angles (social, contextual, educational, etc.).

The Engineer Is The New Demigod

With technocrats being the new hype, they would need new heroes. While pop culture always finds a new type of hero to adore, tech people would place engineers at the top of the pyramid as the new living gods. Elon Musk, Michael Dell, Marc Benioff or Sundar Pichai are the new hype who leads the world with technology (or at least they try to…). This new type of heroes blends business and technology. Therefore we might wonder their true motivations: a greater good for humankind or a very profitable business? Probably they might say both but when it comes to making humanity do a step forward in terms of evolution, there are always limitations aspects driven by business economics. When Louis Pasteur found a vaccine against rabies, when Marie Curie discovered the principles of radioactivity, when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the light bulb, electricity or the motion picture camera, I am not sure they had a business plan in mind.

Jeff-Bezos-Elon-Musk
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

Gods need a place to be. While ancient mythology would talk about Sigh, Asgard or Olympus, today’s modern gods have their own place as well. This is Silicon Valley. This part of the world, being on the west coast of the United States, became in the last 15 years the cradle for the world biggest and most innovative tech companies. From Apple, to Google, Facebook or Tesla motors, Silicon Valley is the new Mecque for tech people. The Silicon Valley legend started in 1891 with the creation of Stanford University. Then came the mythology of starting your business in a garage. In 1939, in the suburbs of Palo Alto, William Hewlett and David Packard started their activity by hacking their radio oscillators in the carport. Forty years later, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built their first computer in their garage. The HP original garage is today a museum that you can visit.

These men have the power to change the world by creating new products and service that can shape your lifestyle. They can also put pressure on governments in order to make them accept new laws. Are they true philanthropists? Not really. If we take the example of Bill Gates. After being considered the devil by many people around the world (mainly people fans of Apple), he moved his center of interest into finding solutions to improve people’s lives. By creating the Melissa and Bill Gates Foundation, Bill Gates decided to eradicate certain diseases through major improvements in terms of vaccination. He invests more money into health than most of the important governments of this world and his fight against malaria is an important one. Nevertheless, there are several critics of his model. The foundation often chooses collaborators like Coca-Cola, Goldman & Sachs, Monsanto or Rupert Murdock. In the matter of Health, several scientists criticize Gates foundation by the choices they make, generally quick wins rather than long term investments.

Bill-Gates
Bill Gates

The world went from standard consumerism to a certain extreme situation in which mankind looks more like cancer for the planet than a specially chosen species. While man represents merely 0.01% of all life present on this planet, he managed to terminate around 80% of the total wildlife ever lived during his time. This means we are reaching an extreme peak that requires massive changes.

3- We Do Not Need God’s Fire Anymore, We Need A Purpose!

What can we say today? First of all, Prometheus might be disappointed but we do not really need Gods’ fire. What we need is to define a purpose for humanity and a mission for a better life. Humanity went through a lot as well as this planet evolved in the past 1000 years. Now, we are facing the biggest threat of massive extinction by unbalancing our ecosystem. Can technology save us all? Definitely not. The only savior of humanity is humanity itself.

We Cannot Just Keep Living The Way We Do

Right now, a great majority of people think we can still continue living the way we live. Travelling became the cheapest ever, we can buy food from all over the world and we can keep using technology the way we want without thinking that it might be consequences to it. Today we can travel 1000km on a plane for less than 100USD. This is not normal. By hard discounting plane travel, we have multiplied the carbon footprint of humanity. According to IATA, currently, there are more than 8 million people flying every day. This is almost 3 billion passengers a year. Climate change is not necessary to influence people’s choices in terms of travel yet. The New York Times analysed that today there are around 20’000 planes operating around the world and when we look to travel forecasts, we will need around 50’000 planes in circulation by 2040. This projection does represent a tremendous ecological disaster. To this point there is one interesting question to be answered: Should we fly less or should we count on technology to help those 50’000 planes to fly without polluting? Probably the answer is BOTH. Nevertheless, by changing our habits, we will provide a much higher improvement to the planet as technology might fix one problem and generate another one.

When we understand how fast we are draining the planet from its natural resources, we can see that something is wrong in the way we have been living and technology or not, we need to change things dramatically.

Ecological-footprint-by-country

Major Change Can Happen At All Levels, From The Smallest To The Highest.

Most of the time we hear things like “what can I do?” or even “I have no power to influence the world’s evolution”. Actually, we have this kind of power by adopting responsible behaviour. Fly much less, eat less, buy things with a certain moderation and make sure of doing the right choices from a logical way are basic things anyone could do in the western and non-western world. By deciding not to buy something that was produced thousands of miles away from you, you make an impact. By taking holidays not far away from home and privilege trains becomes a responsible choice. By generating less garbage and making sure you ban single-usage plastics from your daily life can make an impact. And if we make a list of little things you can do every day to save the planet, the list is quite long: pay attention to how you use water, leave your car in the garage more often, recycle your garbage, walk or ride your bike to work, turn off lights when not using it, change your light bulbs or make your home more energy efficient.

In conclusion, Prometheus was our future and our curse at the same time. By providing gods power, men have been playing god for a while without being annoyed too much by collateral damages. By the time men got the power of fire, there were maybe 55’500 homo-erectus individuals on the planet. We will be around 10 billion people by 2100. We need to reconnect to the planet and to our natural habitat in order to understand our place in this world and maybe to have a chance of survival. Technology is not the answer to everything. We can see it as even if men invented aeroplanes, we still dream of flying.

José Amorim
Information sourced by the author for luxuryactivist.com. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available. Images are for illustration purposes only.

Additional resources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_fix
http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/150576/13/150576.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Atlantis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution#Second_Industrial_Revolution
https://www.netsolutions.com/insights/5-healthcare-problems-which-digital-technologies-can-solve-for-a-fit-and-healthy-world/
https://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/global_hunger_statistics/how_many_people_die
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/climate/airplane-pollution-global-warming.html
https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2013-12-30-01.aspx
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/science/19human.html
José Amorim

José Amorim has been working in the luxury industry for more than 15 years. In the past 8 years, he joined his personal passion for digital culture and his luxury background to develop digital strategies for premium brands. He is the founder of LuxuryActivist.com and is happy to share his passion here.