Motion: This house believes that if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing



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CLOSING REMARKS

Proposition

Opposition

Before making our closing, this house would like to express our most sincere appreciation to the other house for a very rich discussion. We also thank the many caring commentators who added depth and perspective to our thinking. Thanks also to those hard-working behind the scenes souls who allowed all of us to communicate apparently effortlessly.

But, our house cannot yield: we truly believe the evidence overwhelmingly supports the position that technology has failed to simplify our lives. Our house cannot be pugnacious because the issue before us demands no less than what it is getting: a good, lively, and multi-faceted discussion among reasonable men and women of different cultures with different experiences and different hopes. And our house will not whine because the opposing house is a gracious house and because we believe the issue on the table is still in play for the discerning to decide.

To inform decision making and to communicate our position on the issue more clearly, our house has done the hard work of reading all the comments posted, re-evaluated our own house's arguments, and studied and analysed the other house's arguments. After closely reading the other house's eloquent and thoughtful rebuttal, the pages and pages of commentary submitted from around the globe—and reflecting on the question before us and the diverse views expressed regarding the question—this house perceives three threads.

First, reading within the comments—notwithstanding how a commentator voted—there seems to be broad agreement threaded throughout that indeed technology has not simplified our lives. The other house already asserted this. We, of course, agree with the other house that "Adopting any technology is a conscious act of adding complexity to our lives." We also agree with the other house that some technologies that serve us "make our lives more complex in addition." Those positions are central to the question—simplify or complicate—before us. Given what the other house argued or conceded, both houses appear to agree.

The second thread woven within warp and woof of the comments is that there seems to be broad agreement that we humans really don't care that technology has failed to simplify our lives. We are captivated by the value that technology provides.

The benefits—the richness, the reach, the diversity, the opportunities—that technology brings humankind far outweigh the disadvantages of not having simpler lives. "Do the positives outweigh the negatives?" the other house asked and answered, "Often you will find that the answer is: Yes." Both houses agree that "often" that is so. Nor could this house disagree with the other house's sage observation: "Technology is like anything in life. Do too much of it and you pay the consequences. Use it in moderation and the benefits will outweigh the effort you put in." Both houses agree that technology has consequences.

The third thread, however, appeared to be some apparent dissension among the global commentators regarding the precise issue the houses are debating. Since the blame may lay at the feet of this house for its ineloquence, this house believes we can and must clarify the issue we are debating and, while related issues certainly are important, the issues we are not debating.

The houses are not, our house should have made clear, debating the value of technology. Technology provides value, helps us create wealth, and has, can, and will continue to enhance our lives in many ways. That technology creates "overchoice"—the requirement to select from among many potentially satisfying and complex alternatives and variations—and "surplus complexity," or unnecessary and unwanted complexity, is the state of nature in which we find ourselves. This house did not argue that these features were evil, we merely argued that they made our lives and living more complicated. The debate was not, and is not, about the value of technology.

Nor are we debating whether technology has, in many ways, made our lives better or richer. It has. The other house has—and those who joined the global conversation have—blessed us with many concrete examples of how technology improves, enriches, extends, and saves lives. The debate was not, and is not about whether or not technology sweetens living.

Had those questions been the questions being debated, there would have been no debate. However, the question before the houses is "if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing." (In our opening statement, this house excused technology anthropomorphised from having made a "promise" in the hope that the conditional "if" would not confuse the debate.)

In answer to the question actually before the houses, this house believes and asserts that technology, good and valuable as it may be, has just not simplified our lives. Technology has complicated our lives. The complications our house advanced previously may prove to be manageable, but they pose far from simple challenges. They make living complicated.

Each person, both houses would agree and even demand, is free to ascribe one's own evaluation of the "goodness" or "badness" of the complexities technology has introduced into our lives. But neither house, both houses would agree, is free to alter the question before us.

Our house, try as we might, just cannot marshal the data and evidence to conclude that the convergent effects—social, environmental, medical, political, economic, legal and psychological—of all the developments that new technologies have inspired or caused have simplified living our lives. The global, convergent and consequential effects of accelerating technological change—industrialisation, electrification, physics, medicine, genetics, and the appliances of the information age—may have added value, possibly even immense value, but there can be no doubt, even given all the value and goodness and ease that technology may provide, that technology has failed to simplify our "lives."



Advances in technology by themselves do not change our lives, but how and when we adopt them does. Freedom to choose our interactions with technology rightfully puts the responsibility for successful engagement in our own hands.

We make powerful decisions about the world when we organise and act together of our own volition. This online debate is an exemplar forum where technology enables us to effortlessly connect and voice our opinions. After all the talk subsides, however, the important question is what we will do next, because "now" vanishes the moment we look away from the browser window. We inevitably live in the future and our concern is always about what comes next: will technology make our lives better or worse?

Simplified access to information enables us to make better decisions about the personal choices we make for the future. A Google search to learn how technology has failed in our world reveals unfortunate truths that cannot be denied. Readers' comments on this debate rightfully highlight the adverse by-products of technologies in wars, the environment and social concerns. However, we pause, and acknowledge that in the counterbalance a technology (the world wide web) has given light to those realisations.

Where the future is concerned, progress is unavoidable. All we can do is make educated choices.  Technology helps us do just that and its effectiveness warrants our continued support, for if valid, the house's proposition supports the direction that we should cease progress in technology as a means to achieve simplicity in the world. That's at best simplistic.

We are the inventors and consumers of the technologies that emerge. We are also their judges as well. A positive technology augments; a negative technology detriments. The market rejects poor products and practices, and instead embraces what is excellent and meaningful. Only the good technology survives in the end, on account of the constant flow of progress.

Thanks to our ability to share information of all shapes, flavours and sizes across the world, we have new technological tools for making the right decisions. Unusable products are reviewed negatively, companies with questionable practices are openly criticised and historical misuses of technology can studied to be avoided in the future. In addition, there are constructive implications, like users' suggestions for product improvement, activism for lobbying social concerns and the all-important paradigm of open-source sharing of free interchange.

I recall being particularly moved after watching "An Inconvenient Truth" and its powerful presentation of how our world is being transformed. While standing to leave the air-conditioned cinema and preparing to head out to my petrol-powered car, however, I could not help but feel guilty for having gone to see the film. As I headed home, I noted how careful I was of the speed limit and observed the reduced-fuel driving habits that I reserved only for the desperate moments when my petrol tank was near empty. A technology (the film) helped to mediate my own behaviour in relation to technology; it empowered me with knowledge to make new decisions.

So I approach the next phases of technology with optimism. If you have read anything I have written a year earlier, you would be surprised to hear this coming from me. By participating in this debate, for which I have outright respect for Richard Szafranski and the shaping of his excellent arguments, I am a changed man. The negatives only outweigh the positives if we let them. To accept the fact that technology is letting us down is to accept the fact that we ourselves are letting it happen on our watch. I have seen sufficient evidence that innovators are tirelessly at work to invent a better future if we let them be. And I add myself personally to that team that will not rest until we fully succeed.



To read the opinions of guest speakers on this debate, or to see other debates from the Economist Debates series, visit http://www.economist.com/debate




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