I recently had a debate about the answer to this question with a friend. We never settled the conversation, of course. These big questions rarely have simple answers but I would like to take a moment and delve into my thoughts on the subject.
That pretty much sums up my view on the matter but perhaps I should explain.
Technology has consistently made life better – much better. When considering this question you must first consider technology throughout the course of history and not just very recent advancements. Thousands, perhaps even hundreds, of years ago Humans spent much of their time just like any other animal; trying to survive off the land. Any day could be your last, literally. A simple flu virus could wipe out a family. Consider the following technological innovations and how they would impact a family long in the past and to this day:
– Antibiotics (saving lives from bacterial infections that routinely laid waste to people of all ages)
– Mass communication allowing for social connections across the globe. Obviously the benefits for mass communication are anything but trivial.
Over the course of time, people have become an extraordinarily efficient species. We now spend next to no time looking after our most basic needs (safety, food and shelter etc.) and instead spend more time meeting higher needs (love, esteem, comfort, recreation). Many people take for granted how great life is today but this is only because human beings live with “relative mindsets” in that they only know what they can compare to. Put any of us back several hundred years and we would struggle – a lot.
A common argument is that, although first world countries benefit from technological innovation, the poor do not. This is a fallacy of course. Although members of first world countries are often the first people to enjoy technological developments, it does not mean that the poor are not made better off. In fact, although conditions in Africa are still abysmal to this day, conditions have certainly improved as we are now able to offer aid to these people whereas in the past we were not. In the past (before mass communication) we wouldn’t even know that their living conditions were bad – and even if we did, there was relatively little we could do to help if we were spending all of our time trying to survive off our land ourselves.
Some of the biggest advancements in technology that have helped third world countries have been advancements in crop yields. Through technology we are able to increase crop yields to allow more people to live off the same amount of land. This both accommodates the world’s growing population and allows impoverished communities to improve their living conditions – even if only slightly.
All of the above things I’ve mentioned focus on how technology has benefited us on a basic level. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of how technology allows us to visit parts of the world we would otherwise not be able to visit (via an airplane) or the miracle of the computer (historically beyond-imagination). It is as if we have gained the ability to use magic.
Try going back 1,000 years and show them an iPhone. If they don’t declare you God, I would be very surprised.
Warning: you may be declared a wizard or witch and killed on the spot