Sunday, May 13, 2007

Tech and Civilisation

Another rant this time on technology and civilisation. Noting I'm currently in my 6th year of studying in a field of science I'm likely somewhat biased in what I think about this sort of stuff. Seeing Science to a certain degree exists to further technology.

The first thing is that technology for the most part, as far as we can tell, is the product of civilisation as well as both the means and the ends of civilisation.
Civilisation advances technology and technology in turn advances civilisation, while becoming both the cause and cure of many of the ills of civilisation.

A common idea at the moment seems to be that of "dropping" out of the technological society to some degree or another, to get back to the basics etc.
Hardly a new or original idea, it's been tried numerous times before in varying manners with varying degrees of success, possibly the most successful example I can think of might be the Amish.

Any way I'm wondering about how well people have thought it through and to what extent would they consider dropping out of the technological society?

For example would you consider dropping out to the point where you are completely self sufficient, contributing nothing to society, no taxes etc?
If so do you expect government funded healthcare and a pension?
If so why? Your certainly not helping pay for it if your live in a manner that pays no tax.
What would you be doing to help People/Government/Society?
Or would you drop out to a lesser level? Keep useful tech an dump stuff like TV's, coffee machines, blenders?
Would you remain at your job, or find a new one that was lower tech yet helped people or provided something they needed? Such as becoming an organic farmer or a wandering doctor who wandered from village to village?

Another thing I find worrying about the go low tech idea is that if a large enough mass of people adopted it and started dropping certain none essential tech such as TV's there is likely to be a sort of flow on effect to other areas of technology that people depend on.
Say TV's get a boot, so factories that produce them shut down, and some how we find jobs for all those workers, also save a bit of power so a couple of spare power plants gets shut down.
Now if you get hit by a natural disaster what happens? Say a Dam or two burst (big earthquake, certainly possible) so there is a significant loss of power, with less power stations as a result of the ones shut down earlier every dam has a bigger share of the electricity generated. So what happens to electrical heating, if a power runs short or lighting?
Also natural disaster the government wants to alert people about it, and provide them advice on how to survive, what places to avoid etc. However we've got rid of TV's so radio it has to be. Radio though has a lesser bandwidth, it doesn't display visual info so it will take longer to inform people and warn them of the full extent of the problem. In that time difference how many will die?

The thing is that with our society and civilisation everything is interrelated. Technology is present every where, extending our lives, our activities and the range of habitats we can survive in. And because technology and science are so interrelated cutting back in one area will always have flow on effects to other areas. Effects, that due to the way we use technology to extend humans abilities to survive and live when they would be other wise incapable of doing so, means that reductions in technology will lead to loss of life, either directly or indirectly. As minor issues become major ones.
One series of books I've read makes and interesting suggestion. That being, for what every you do, there will be at least 3 unexpected and potentially unwanted consequences, that you failed to see or consider.
So consider carefully and don't jump off the bandwagon just because you don't like the way it's heading just at the moment.

Also the other thing to note is that humans being generally a competitive species if one group, if not all groups reduce technology to the same level those that don't will soon out compete those that did reduce it.


Gavin said...

Multi-Touch Sensing through Frustrated Total Internal Reflection. (Jeff Hann)

A great example of how complex technology can complement a simple human behaviour...not to mention the sheer provocative coolness of it... ;)

Bring on Minority Report I say!

era said...

You make a very good point. However, I would like to pick at a few points you make, and maybe suggest a slightly different understanding of what it means to drop out of society that you might find more sensible.

Science today is very much tied to technology. To do science costs a lot of money, and to get a lot of money you have to convince the people with it that what you are doing will be able to be turned into a marketable technology. While there was always some connection between tech and sci, I think the complete connection that we currently see is mostly the result of the industrial basis of research funding.

Technology predates civilisation by a fair amount. And while our civilisation has produced a lot of new technologies, it is misleading to suggest that it is the only way of living that produces and relies on technology. Furthermore, there is nothing essentially wrong with technology. It isn’t bombs that kill people, it is people pushing buttons that kill people. I guess what tickles me about the luddies is that they are really just choosing to live by another technology, rather than their bolder claim that they’re going without it.

I have noticed that there is a general desire among many people to escape from the rat race of civilisation. No doubt, some people think that doing this would simply require ceasing to part-take, without really thinking through what they’re doing. These are probably the same sort of people who don’t do very well when they attempt to dropout. So I pretty much agree with your general suggestion that dropping out of our society into a low-tech one doesn’t make much sense.

Instead I would suggest that if people were to think things through a little more they could come up with a much more plausible way of escaping what it is that they’re not enjoying. Many technologies we use today are destroying our environment. Because we can’t live without the environment, it makes sense that we should look after it. So it also makes sense then for people to opt to use earth-friendly technology; out with cars, in with bikes, etc, etc. It isn’t that cars are too technological, it is that they’re BAD for the environment.

Civilisation itself can be understood as a technology, or at least the foundation of it certainly is a technology. It has been called ‘Totalitarian agriculture’; and is basically the practice of arranging an ecosystem to maximise the production of humans. Grow only the food (animals and crops) that we can eat, kill other animals that also eat that food, and kill anything that stops that food from growing. Now many people see that this technology is destroying the world, and they do not want to be part of that any more. However we cannot really go back to huntering and gathering, so instead we need to find new ways of living that do not inherently destroy our environment. Doing so will no doubt be very much a process of creating and using new and wonderful technologies. So I don’t really think of what I am doing in terms of dropping out, so much as it is an attempt to forge a new and better way of living.

I think this is probably long enough for a comment now. You said a lot and there is a lot more I would like to say in response.

EONsim said...


Yes Tech predates at least large scale civilisation by a fair bit, which I eluded to when I said that it was both "the means and the end of Civilisation".

"it is misleading to suggest that it is the only way of living that produces and relies on technology."
True we can't say absolute confidence that our civilisation is the only type produces and relies on Tech. Though note in for pretty much the whole post I'm talking about civilisation in general rather than our one exactly.
Also it seems likely that any high tech culture/society/civilisation will have certain similarities due to the way both science and technology build off previous science and tech. Meaning that you need a solid tech base to produce most types of new tech in a reasonable manner. Needing the tools, to build the tools, to build the tools, that build the end product.

To have high tech with out the currently associated industrial base, would require significant advances in one of two fields must likely biotech or nanotech, seeing they appear to be the only two fields in which self assembly becomes possible.

I'd certainly agree that going with your idea of more of a new civilisation/lifestyle. Will require a significant, advance in some technology. However I wonder how many people realise that part of it. Rather than hoping on the anti-tech bandwagon.

Any way interesting comment feel free to stick up the rest of your thoughts in a comment or stick up a post on your blog and with your thoughts and link the two together. If you do I'll add a link to the post.