Friday, January 27, 2012

Muse of the Week: Technology

Sixty-one years ago today, the United States began testing atomic bombs in the Nevada desert. Currently, government officials are negotiating compensation for those whose health was adversely affected by these tests.

I'm entering the period in my United States history course when Americans increasingly believed science and technology offered the keys to the kingdom of endless abundance and an increasing standard of living. Standardization and efficiency would create the largest consumer-goods juggernaut the world had ever known. Science could offer unparalleled medical benefits ensuring longer, healthier lives for people from all strata of American society. But... there is always a but. The very standardization and efficiency the early twentieth century so prized often failed to accommodate worker's rights or appreciate the unique contributions that immigrants' cultures might have made. The science that could result in so many medical and technical advances also spurred practices ranging from eugenics to the aforementioned atomic bomb. And, of course, so many of these advances also created the unintended or unrecognized consequences of waste, resource exploitation and the diseases of overindulgence--and even the good things have not always made it to the rest of the world.

In the contemporary world, we struggle with competing visions, even within our own minds (if mine is any indication). Technology must be carefully weighed and measured if we are to make wise decisions about our future. Prior assumptions that technology represents an unmitigated good no longer hold water. How will we negotiate this complex path?

I hope the Nevada testing grounds prove a useful example. Past outcomes cannot predict the future, but they can help us see patterns and tendencies. We would be foolish not to absorb these lessons.

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