Technology for bad

When we look across the landscape, what do we see? A human species relentlessly driving itself to collapse, with half of the population screaming to put the foot even harder on the accelerator. And what is the accelerator? Technology is the accelerator.

And yet an almost constant refrain is that technology is neither good nor bad. It’s a wonderful, easy argument, a great rationalizer and comforter. And yet the unmistakeable fact is that if humans didn’t have technology, we wouldn’t have a climate crisis, a soil crisis, a water crisis, a plastics crisis, a nitrogen and phosphorus crisis, a biodiversity crisis. The unmistakeable fact is that the more technology we have developed, the more we have progressed and innovated, the greater these life-threatening crises have become.

Technology is bad for this environment because to make and run technology, we must change this environment into another environment, and that environment is less suitable to our form of life. The fact that we have convinced ourselves that massively increasing the use of technology will save our environment merely shows how we are masters at rationalization, not rational thought.

About 5% of technology is being used to stabilize and improve our environment and 95% of it is being used to destroy it because destroying the environment is the best way to maximize profits. This needs to be understood. Environmental destruction by Big Tech is not an unfortunate accident. It is the core strategy. Waste is the product. The more waste you create, the more “new” products you sell, and thus the more profits you make. The less repairable you make your products, the more “new” products you sell and profits you make.

It is not simply about the making and selling and wasting of technology products. Much of the modern technological architecture has the purpose of advertising and selling the maximum numbers of products for other producers. Google is an advertising engine. Bing is an advertising engine. Twitter is social advertising. Facebook is social advertising. Amazon is increasingly an advertising engine.

In this sense, modern technology creates the foundational architecture for overconsumption, and overconsumption is the underlying cause of all crises we now face. So, how can we still say, with a straight face, that technology is neither good nor bad. It’s like saying that guns don’t kill people.

Used wisely, used much less, technology can play a vital role in helping sustain an environment that is suitable for life as we know it. Wisdom is what we desperately need more of. When do we ever ask the question: Is it wise to do this?

Right now, we are trapped in a global economy of waste and overconsumption. While we might like to talk about circular economies, the reality is that economies are becoming more linear because waste is the way to maximize profits in the short term. Everything about the technology industry is short-term, from the way it engineers and designs, from the way it markets and sells, to the way it encourages planned obsolescence. The solutions we need to reduce consumption cannot come from a Big Tech whose core profitability depends on finding more innovations to increase consumption.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
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