Things We Need To Know About Technological Change hello,please read the attach and write 5 response (on your own word please) it does not have to be paragraph, few sentence two to three lines is perfect. make sure to make them 5 and also I need to know which part you are using to know your response to which phase have you pickedthank you for helping Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change
Talk delivered in Denver Colorado
March 28, 1998
… I doubt that the 21st century will pose for us problems that are more stunning, disorienting or complex
than those we faced in this century, or the 19th, 18th, 17th, or for that matter, many of the centuries before
that. But for those who are excessively nervous about the new millennium, I can provide, right at the start,
some good advice about how to confront it. …. Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: “All our
inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end.” Here is what Goethe told us: “One should, each
day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if possible, speak a few reasonable
words.” Socrates told us: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Rabbi Hillel told us: “What is hateful
to thee, do not do to another.” And here is the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of thee but to do
justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.” And I could say, if we had the time, (although you
know it well enough) what Jesus, Isaiah, Mohammad, Spinoza, and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same:
There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to
believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the
Nonetheless, having said this, I know perfectly well that because we do live in a technological age, we have
some special problems that Jesus, Hillel, Socrates, and Micah did not and could not speak of. I do not have
the wisdom to say what we ought to do about such problems, and so my contribution must confine itself to
the wisdom to say what we ought to do about such problems, and so my contribution must confine itself to
some things we need to know in order to address the problems. I call my talk Five Things We Need to
Know About Technological Change. I base these ideas on my thirty years of studying the history of
technological change but I do not think these are academic or esoteric ideas. They are to the sort of things
everyone who is concerned with cultural stability and balance should know and I offer them to you in the
hope that you will find them useful in thinking about the effects of technology on religious faith.
The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology
giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is
always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the
advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be
surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of
the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who
knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and
relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely
neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the
wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.
Think of the automobile, which for all of its obvious advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities,
and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape. Or you might reflect on the paradox of medical
technology which brings wondrous cures but is, at the same time, a demonstrable cause of certain diseases
and disabilities, and has played a significant role in reducing the diagnostic skills of physicians. It is also
well to recall that for all of the intellectual and social benefits provided by the printing press, its costs were
equally monumental. The printing press gave the Western world prose, but it made poetry into an exotic
and elitist form of communication. It gave us inductive science, but it reduced religious sensibility to a
form of fanciful superstition. Printing gave us the modern conception of nationhood, but in so doing tumed
patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion. We might even say that the printing of the Bible in vernacular
languages introduced the impression that God was an Englishman or a German or a Frenchman—that is to
say, printing reduced God to the dimensions of a local potentate.
Perhaps the best way I can express this idea is to say that the question, “What will a new technology do?” is
no more important than the question, “What will a new technology undo?” Indeed, the latter question is
more important, precisely because it is asked so infrequently. One might say, then, that a sophisticated
perspective on technological change includes one’s being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn
by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it
were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the
person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet,
the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs
of great technologies.
Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.
This leads to the second idea, which is that the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never
distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms
others. There are even some who are not affected at all. Consider again the case of the printing press in the
16th century, of which Martin Luther said it was “God’s highest and extremest act of grace, whereby the
business of the gospel is driven forward.” By placing the word of God on every Christian’s kitchen table,
the mass-produced book undermined the authority of the church hierarchy, and hastened the breakup of the
Holy Roman See. The Protestants of that time cheered this development. The Catholics were enraged and
distraught. Since I am a Jew, had I lived at that time, I probably wouldn’t have given a damn one way or
another, since it would make no difference whether a pogrom was inspired by Martin Luther or Pope Leo X.
Some gain, some lose, a few remain as they were.
Let us take as another example, television, although here I should add at once that in the case of television
there are very few indeed who are not affected in one way or another. In America, where television has
taken hold more deeply than anywhere else, there are many people who find it a blessing, not least those
who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, directors,
newscasters and entertainers. On the other hand, and in the long run, television may bring an end to the
careers of school teachers since school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the
issue of how much importance the printed word will have in the future. There is no chance, of course, that
television will go away but school teachers who are enthusiastic about its presence always call to my mind
an image of some turn-of-the-century blacksmith who not only is singing the praises of the automobile but
who also believes that his business will be enhanced by it. We know now that his business was not
enhanced by it; it was rendered obsolete by it, as perhaps an intelligent blacksmith would have known.
The questions, then, that are never far from the mind of a person who is knowledgeable about technological
change are these: Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups,
what type of person, what kind of industry will be favored? And, of course, which groups of people will
thereby be harmed?
These questions should certainly be on our minds when we think about computer technology. There is no
doubt that the computer has been and will continue to be advantageous to large-scale organizations like the
military or airline companies or banks or tax collecting institutions. And it is equally clear that the
computer is now indispensable to high-level researchers in physics and other natural sciences. But to what
extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steel workers, vegetable
store owners, automobile mechanics, musicians, bakers, bricklayers, dentists, yes, theologians, and most of
the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes? These people have had their private matters made
more accessible to powerful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; they are subjected to
more examinations, and are increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them. They are more than
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