Technology in Society

In the early 2010s, the techno-utopiasts were still shouting from the rooftops about how the internet would connect us all and create a more tolerant global community.

We could finally start to feel just how fast technological change was occurring.

Smartphones hit critical mass. Global travel became easier and cheaper. Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and Pinterest and Youtube were connecting all of us with such ease that we already take for granted the fact that we can instantly connect with just about anyone, just about anywhere in the world—for free.

And yet, in hindsight, we would have been smart to doubt that all of this was categorically a good thing.

Extreme fundamentalism was getting worse, not better. Reports of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide in the developed world were getting worse, not better. Inequality was getting worse, not better. Bitter populism gripped the world in the latter half of the decade. And on and on.

By the end of the decade and up to now into the 2020s, we’d taken a collective step back to ask ourselves just how the world got to be so fucked when things should have been so great.

But I’m once again contrarian. I think things have a real chance of getting good for a lot of people, not worse.

People are wising up the consequences of what unfettered and unfiltered information can do to their own minds as well as the societies they live in. Better research on social media use is starting to show that it’s probably not the evil monster it’s been made into in recent years (the news is probably much more insidious). And this might come as a shock to you, but people are actually reading more books than ever.

Sure, there’s a lot to be concerned about, but I think it’s a bit overblown.

All of that said, while I’m optimistic, I’m only cautiously so. Because while I think technological progress is a net positive to humanity, there’s also a dark side to it.

But that dark side is largely mitigated once we learn how to use technology to help us live out our values; that is, when we learn how to use technology rather than letting the technology use us.

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