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.
Randall provides a set of predictions that tend to be made about new major technologies (particularly communications and multimedia technologies), and answers the question of whether those predictions are likely to actually come true. Importantly, these predictions have been made for many years, about many different technologies (reaching back at least as far as radio, and some as far back as the printing press), so Randall is likely confident in his answers, based on past performance.
Will [ ] make us all geniuses/morons? No. While it is possible for new technologies to make education and information more widely available, it's never going to make everyone a genius. At the same time, while new technologies might introduce new distractions or avenues for misinformation, they're unlikely to genuinely make people less intelligent en masse.
Will [ ] destroy whole industries? Yes. Most significant technologies, once widely adopted, with tend to either make other technologies obsolete, or eliminate the need or desire for other products or services. Accordingly, there's a long history of industries rising and falling as new technologies develop, and there's little reason to imagine this changing. 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. The first question is usually raised in a way that's either salacious or fear-mongering, but the second puts it into context. Most teens have sex at some point, and many have active sex lives, which has been true pretty much throughout history. This is upsetting to many adults, but is more or less unavoidable. When new technologies become commonplace, it's almost inevitable that it will become involved in sex somehow. This can be presented as the technology encourage sexual immorality, but there's little reason to believe that new technologies make it more likely that young people will have sex.
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. While is is likely that industries built around art will be disrupted (see above), the nature of music and art are so fundamental to human beings that it's certain they'll survive, even if the business models around them change.
But can't we go back to a time when— No. Elderly people frequently express their disapproval of modern culture and lifestyle, and of the technology that drives them. These judgments may reflect valid concerns about damaging trends, or they may merely reflect nostalgia and a bias against a world they no longer understand. In either case, it's implausible that society will simply decide to reverse technological or cultural trends. For better or worse, they're here to stay.
Will [ ] bring about world peace?- No. People have been trying to bring about world peace for centuries; While it is possible for diplomatic and cultural advances to make war less widespread and/or less destructive, conflict between nations and peoples seems unlikely to end anytime soon, and it's entirely implausible that any given piece of technology will bring about that end.
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, seemingly dismissing the possibility that new technologies will make this any worse.
The title text asks, Will [ ] allow us to better understand each other and thus make war undesirable?, and suggests that it comes up every time a new communication medium is invented. The argument has long been that wars require us to effectively dehumanize one another (which is the only way that mass slaughter can be justified), so the ability to communicate more freely with people from other nations will make it impossible for us to consider war as an option. Unfortunately, the ability to mentally separate ourselves from one another appears to be quite resilient, particularly when there's strong incentive to so do (which is often the case in international conflicts). What's more, the same communications technology that can help us interact across borders can also be used by belligerent voices to dehumanize others and justify the use of force. While war is always "undesirable", in the sense that it has huge human and financial costs, people keep managing to make it happen, and technology doesn't seem capable of changing that.
- [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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