Unintended consequences of technology

Every new technology has a purpose. Nobody invents things for no reason. But many technologies have unintended consequences. They change society in some way that nobody foresaw, not even the inventors.

The example I often use is air conditioning. What an amazing invention, saving people from withering in summer’s heat. The reason to invent air conditioning was to make us more comfortable. But what else did it end up doing?

Unintended consequences of technology

Air conditioning

By making the indoors more comfortable, people got an incentive to spend more time indoors. And that’s just what people slowly began to do as air conditioning became more common. This, in turn, had many consequences.

House designs changed. The once ubiquitous front porch has all but disappeared from modern housing designs. Why were front porches so common? Because it was often too hot to stay inside.  People would go out onto their front porches and do front-porch things. Families did things together. People got to know their neighbors, as they were all outside either walking by or within sight on their own front porches.

When air conditioning came along, fewer people went out onto their front porches. The demand for front porches disappeared, and so new homes were built porchless.

Without spending time on front porches, people grew less close to their neighbors. A passing neighbor would have nobody to wave to. Today, many people don’t have a clue who most of their neighbors are.

All that time spent indoors meant people could use their down time for reading and writing. And there was always TV, which had come along not much earlier than air conditioning.  More recently, we’ve had computers and video games to keep us occupied. On the whole, these indoor activities are less social, and often more cerebral. So we got smarter, but society got weaker.

All that time in air conditioning meant less time in fresh air than when we spent time on front porches. Sure, we got smarter, but we got less healthy overall.

Smart tech

Cutting edge technology is still changing us in unintended ways. All the “smart” technology you read about is actually making us less smart. Smart technology, dumb people.

I have already seen how people flounder without their GPS. It seems to take only a couple years relying on GPS for people to forget how to read a map or even remember which direction is north. They chuckle about this, but it’s just part of a gadget trend.

Remember the roundish humans in the movie Wall-E? Use it or lose it.

It’s the same with our brain. Use it or lose it. So many smart gadgets are coming out to give us shortcuts to thinking. But those gadgets are making us dumber. Yes, Spell Check …I’m talking to you!

The irony is that we seek out brain exercises to help grow smarter. Yet we lean more and more on devices that bypass natural brain exercise.

Exercise

We do that with our bodies, too. Cars make us flabby. Computers tied to desks make us flabby.

On the one hand, we minimize the walking we need to do by parking as close as possible to the grocery store door. We grab an elevator or use escalators to avoid the stairs. Then we head off the gym to make up for the exercise we missed. Missed? No, the exercise we deprived ourselves of.

Superbugs

Medical technology might end up making us sicker, too. An unintended consequence of relying too much on antibiotics is that resistant bacteria are forming. It seems that too much of a good thing isn’t all that good.

So far, these “superbugs” have been stopped before they break loose. But one of these days, such a superbug will break out and we’ll have the third pandemic on our hands. Or perhaps I am just reading too much Pierre Ouellette. But the risk is real.

If we know about these things, we can take control.

  • I don’t use GPS. So far, I have resisted.
  • I purposefully park far from store entrances.
  • I take the stairs whenever I have the choice, even up several flights.

I wish I could say I was doing something about superbugs, but I don’t see much that I can do on that one.

Whatever the next big invention, there will be unintended consequences. Many of them will affect our health. Many will affect society. All will make great material for a future blog post.

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to Unintended consequences of technology

  1. Raymond says:

    Being chained to my desk for my day job, that exercise and healthy life style point hits home for me. Thanks for the article David, it was good read!

  2. Hi David

    Your blog post “Unintended consequences of technology” was an exciting read.
    You said:

    “Nobody invents things for no reason. But many technologies have unintended consequences. They change society in some way that nobody foresaw, not even the inventors.”

    Agree!

    This is also why technology is amusing.

    I can relate to your AC-example since I’m from the Philippines although I live in Greenland now.

    So much for the porch!

    My favourite sentence in this particular blog post was:

    “So we got smarter, but society got weaker.”

    Well said!

    You have a legit point when you question how smart, smart technology is.

    Some of the smart technologies are great – many are not.

    We deprive ourselves, as you say, for many good elements in life by uncritically using the new technologies.

    I don’t think you’re reading too much Pierre Ouellette.

    Once again, thank you for a thoughtful blog post as always.
    Kindly
    Edna Davidsen

  3. John Pinto says:

    I have started my indoor activities like meditation yoga, no matter what tech innovations do for us. I know it always has the advantage as well as disadvantages but I’ve started things which makes me feel positive in life.

    Make your life wonderful on your own.

    Great article.

  4. Desk job.. My nightmare!!! It’s scientifically proven that even you exercise every day for a couple of hours it still won’t help against the long hours at the desk… So solutions might be either less working hours a day, or a more dynamic kind of work.

  5. Hey David,

    It great to be reading your post again. It’s always the best efforts you have put into your content, that’s why it will help many out there looking to learn.

    By the way, Thanks for the great read David.

    ~ Donna

  6. Addy Brown says:

    As smartphones, tablets, social media and other digital strategies reshape the way we educate our students and do our jobs, scientists and psychologists are beginning to question what our dependence on technology is doing to our minds.

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