Technology as an enabler of change and Social Innovation

Social CHange vs. Technology ChangeIf you have read anything, I have written or had the misfortune of meeting me in person you would guess that I “like” technology. It’s true, but, as I wrote in my last post, not all technologies are created equal and so my appreciation varies on the purpose, utility, complexity and a host of other criteria about that technology.

All technology is, by nature, an enabler (if not the actual cause) of change. Change is, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.” The problem is she would be wrong in many cases. Change is not always good. Change can be bad. Change caused or enabled by technology can also be bad. So technology can be bad, right? Careful it’s a logical trap!

Even when change is bad, is it the “change” itself, or our reaction to it that is “bad”. Often our reaction is to ignore change and that, very often is “bad”. Technology enables change and there are so many external factors outside of the technology itself that determine the value of the impact of that technology and/or the change caused by it. Good and bad becomes difficult to judge relative to the “cause”.

Whenever there is any change in a system, often more changes are triggered as the system tries to reach stability or a new point of balance. Technological change often triggers social change! The plow is considered one of the most impactful technological advancements ever created. It triggered huge and persistent social changes including the scale of communities and enablement of cultural and artistic development. The plow was as disruptive as it was empowering.

In the end, we can probably all agree that the invention of the plow was a “net good”. How about another agricultural technology like pesticides? I suspect not everyone would agree. Nuclear energy?

Some sly advocates for technological would say, “well if we used these technologies correctly then they would be great.”
I agree but have we kept up social development to the rate of our technological advancement?

There are many fiction and non-fiction pieces that discuss this conundrum of technology. I try to do so in my book. I don’t offer a solution because it’s a politically charged topic and my solution would likely offend a lot of capitalist, libertarians and skeptics.

I am sure we are not going to stop developing new technologies, but I hope we find a way to speed up our social development to match. I think we all need to think about this because there is a part we all have to take responsibility for. Even if we are not the technological innovators, we are all the consumers. We should be skeptical that the inventors and geniuses have devoted their efforts to work out the social impact or the innovations needed to mitigate that impact.

Social innovators that organized movements to look into and educate people on the effects of pesticides deserve great credit and perhaps more than the chemists that have brewed them up.

I know less about organic chemistry than I do about the internet and communications technology and I am worried we aren’t socially innovating fast enough to guarantee that technological advancements aren’t creating “net bad” results.

We can’t all be inventors and scientists, but we are all social participants. Please find a way to contribute to this discussion. Otherwise, this techno-thriller ride we are all living may have an unhappy ending.

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