Has Technology Improved Our Lives?
Posted by Michael Dickens on July 18, 2010
Over the last several hundred years, society has seen a massive increase in technology. Some of this technology, like the printing press and the internet, has served to make information more readily available. Other sorts of technology, such as antibiotics and vaccinations, have fought diseases and increased our lifespans. The question is, has this technology actually improved our lives, or has it only made us more short-sighted and materialistic?
It is commonly observed that technology hasn’t really made people any happier. Although I have never lived in a time period with radically different technology, I think it’s safe for me to assume that this is true. Technology has made short-term pleasures more readily available with the advents of television and video games. But we haven’t really seen any serious advances in technologies that satisfy our deeper pleasures since the invention of the printing press, which allowed important knowledge to be more easily accessed. Still, I am optimistic about what technology has done for us, even in recent years.
Why? Because although technology hasn’t really made us happier, it has most certainly served to reduce suffering, and continues to do so. Advances in medicine give us longer lives and help those lives to be more pain-free. Time-saving inventions like cars and planes, as well as labor-saving machines like dishwashers and washing machines, may not make us happier but they do make life easier. When we don’t have to spend so much time washing our clothes, we have more time to do things that we really enjoy.
As technology continues to progress, our lives become less and less painful. Although technology itself may not make us happier, we can use the time it gives us to enrich our lives. Whether we actually do so is another question entirely. This reminds me of a presentation by Neil Postman on Technology and Society — among other things, he makes the case that we don’t really need technology because it doesn’t make us happier. We’ll just spend our free time watching TV.
Well, maybe we will. And that’s our choice. But it is also entirely possible to spend our time doing very fulfilling things, which we are now capable of doing because of technology. I have the freedom to write essays that can be read by people I’ve never met, thanks to technology. Unlike television, I can definitively say that this has improved the quality of my life.
Technology does not guarantee our happiness, but it does do two very important things: it reduces the suffering that we have to endure; and in frees us and opens our sights to whole new worlds. Those are the true benefits of technology.