Urban life, as opposed to rural life, is associated with high reliance on a variety of technology, ranging from communication, through transportation, to home appliances and processed foods. While the growth of technology has made many of these available in rural areas, their widespread usage and necessity cannot be compared to its levels in the city. This debate from the Economist’s Debates series poses the question if this is, generally, a good thing and if technology has made lives simpler overall.
The argument of the proposition is that technology has failed to deliver on the promise for simpler living by causing a number of world-wide catastrophes such as global warming, and exposing each and every one of us to the perils of over-choice and surplus complexity. Efficiency communication technology creates, for example, does not save us labor; it merely makes us apply labor towards a new goal – that of making a choice between the thousands of search results and hundreds of options. The proposition thus concludes “The system as a whole, the system we create and sustain and live in, now has so many and so complex separate parts that understanding consequential interactions, potential outcomes—intended and unintended—and long-term effects is more difficult than ever in human history. One might argue that the genesis of problems like over-choice and surplus complexity is in human frailty or human wants satisfied by technology, but, without technology, more simplicity would endure. Technology is the beneficial culprit that allowed us to do this.”
The argument of the opposition is that “adopting any technology is a conscious act of adding complexity to our lives. However while adding new complexities, a successful technology is able to at least dampen and at times completely remove the greater complexities that existed prior.” An example of this relationship is how being stuck in traffic with your car makes life more complex, but being able to drive after work to the beach makes it better. Ultimately, the opposition says, it is a matter of balance between the complexity technology induces and the complexity it resolves, and in their view, the balance is often towards the latter. Additionally, technological advance has been a consciously pursued choice by humans. Thus, to view technology as culprit is to ignore the human will to develop technology in order to increase standard of living. Finally, whilst technology today might be imperfect, it is a work in progress and the opposition forecasts that the outcomes of technological growth will make our technology-dependent lives simpler.
During the rebuttal and closing statements, the proposition warns against debating on expectations about the future, as well as that human choice might be constrained by our choices others have made already.
The Economist Debates:
Motion: This house believes that if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing.