1289: Simple Answers
Title text: 'Will [ ] allow us to better understand each other and thus make war undesirable?' is one that pops up whenever we invent a new communication medium.
This is Randall's commentary on some of the baseless skepticism and equally baseless optimism directed at new technologies. Related: 1215: Insight and 1227: The Pace of Modern Life. While it's always healthy to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of cutting-edge tech before blindly diving in and adopting it, it's not healthy to base that evaluation on unrealistically high standards and expectations. New developments will have pros and cons, and it's hard to tell whether they make the world a better place or not.
Randall has set up a Q&A for this kind of questioning. Most of the them are straightforward, but we'll provide some commentary on selected questions.
Will [ ] destroy whole industries? Yes. A widely adopted technology usually causes another to gradually phase out, and industries will rise and fall as technologies do. This is a bit of a loaded question because "destroy industries" sounds negative, and only covers half the effect — instead of merely destroying them, we're also replacing them with something (hopefully) better.
Will teens use [ ] for sex? Yes. Were they going to have sex anyway? Yes. Sex is pretty important to almost everyone, so it'll find its way into most generic technologies. Hormone-crazed tech-savvy teenagers are a particularly strong intersection of the two. Parents fearing teen sex might be worried about how their kids would use the technology, but the second question refutes these concerns quite concisely.
Will [ ] destroy music/art? No. Every new technology for reproducing musical and artistic works (such as player pianos and video cassette recorders) has been accompanied by warnings that it will destroy the industry that supplies it content. The reality is a special case of the "destroy industries" question - old business models will fall but new ones will arise in their place, and art and music as a whole will survive.
But can't we go back to a time when— No. Elderly people express their disapproval of today's technological luxuries, nostalgically longing for a time before Foo or Bar came around. That's just how the stereotype goes, but there is a large helping of truth to it. Usually, their sentiments are not a fair judgement, but an emotional attachment to the olden days and a resistance to change.
Will [ ] bring about world peace?- No. People have been trying to bring about world peace for centuries; sadly, other people are in no such hurry and insist on more conflict to solve their own problems.
The final answer is a depressing and strangely beautiful comment on human nature: Will [ ] cause widespread alienation by creating a world of empty experiences? We were already alienated. Skeptics may be concerned that a new technology will make people's pleasures and interactions more artificial and shallow; Randall comments that this is already something well known in our society.
From the Title Text, Will [ ] allow us to better understand each other and thus make war undesirable? describes the usual theory that a technology might use to bring about world peace. Unfortunately, not only does the answer seem to be "no" to World Peace either way, but there's no indication that increased global communication actually facilitates understanding and empathy between distant communities. In fact, many cynics say the Internet has in fact caused the opposite effect, causing people to fracture into like-minded cliques rather than intermingle.
- [Caption above the chart:]
- The simple answers to the questions that get asked about every new technology:
Will [ ] make us all geniuses? No Will [ ] make us all morons? No Will [ ] destroy whole industries? Yes Will [ ] make us more empathetic? No Will [ ] make us less caring? No Will teens use [ ] for sex? Yes Were they going to have sex anyway? Yes Will [ ] destroy music? No Will [ ] destroy art? No But can't we go back to a time when- No Will [ ] bring about world peace? No Will [ ] cause widespread
alienation by creating a world
of empty experiences?
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