Does technology make us all richer? Certainly in one
sense poor people today have a lot more than poor people did
100 years ago.
Technology makes us richer in the sense that we have more
things, but is that the only sense in which we want to be
what did conservatives think of the modern era?
- in the early years of modernism conservatives saw it
as too much change
- later conservatives came to embrace technological
change but not social change (and new movements in art)
- change in science and technology and arts and society
are all linked together--Lienhard
- Lienhard would say you can't have technological
progress without it causing change in society
Watch out for Nye's use of the word "liberal." He is
using it in an economic history sense--technological/economic
liberals believe that technological progress and
economic growth are good things.
Nye is using liberal to mean pro-technology, pro-economic
growth (as in economic liberalism)
- The space program is liberal in the sense that it is
more about education/learning/exploration/science than
about the success of American business
- it used
to be (1970s) that conservatives wanted economic growth
and therefore technological progress, liberals were more
worried about the dangers of technology. You go back
even further and conservatives led the early fight to
protect the environment because they saw conservatism as
keeping the old traditions, limiting progress
- liberals today:
- worry about environmental dangers
- are more likely to worry about the damage that
might be done by unrestrained economic growth (and
- but they also want the government to do more to
advance science and technology for the public good
- conservatives today:
- worry about preserving traditional values
- believe in a free market
- may be suspicious of science
- want the government to do as little as possible,
including supporting the advance of science and
- libertarians today
- want minimal government and regulation
- want the government to stay out of personal moral
- the old definition of economic liberalism is not the
way we use the word today
Is technological progress and economic growth always a good thing?
Most of you probably automatically answer yes, but in this
chapter you need to stop and think about that. Think
about this in terms of quality of life.
technology make us richer? Yes, it gives us
more things--a higher standard of living.
- standard of living: what things and experiences can
- how does it affect our values?
of life also includes pleasant community
environment, good health, crime rate, do neighbors help
Is a higher standard of living the whole
story? Does it give us a better quality of life?
Standard of living is what we can buy--food, clothing,
argument that technology improves our quality of life
- almost everyone believes we have gained more than we
- In the British industrial revolution the rich got the
benefits and initially the poor did not see much
improvement in their standard of living
- in the modern era rich and poor both got a lot of
benefits from new technology
- in recent years a lot of products have become more
affordable, but the gap between rich and poor is
- technological progress has certainly given us more
one attempt at wider measures, for England:
Does technological progress and economic growth lead to
more damage to our environment? Do the factories that
made more products cause more pollution? Economic growth
reduces the natural places we can visit and enjoy.
How far should we go to protect the environment at
the cost of economic growth?
- before the 1960s there was concern about human health
and local unpleasantness (quality of life)
- in the 1960s the concern expanded to our effect on
the natural world
- in the 1980s the assumption was we could afford to do
a lot to preserve nature
- more recently more concern about the cost of
Graph to right--is getting wealthier (country by country)
good for the environment?
- in poor countries protecting the environment doesn't
seem like the most important thing
- as countries get wealthier they tend to do more to
protect the environment
- technology can be used to damage the environment more
but also to clean it up
What about quality of life?
- we have gained a lot--entertainment, mobility, life
- Are we happier
than people were 200 years ago? Are our
cities more pleasant place to live than they were 200
years ago (in terms of layout, not sanitation)? If
so, why do people like to live in historic districts?
- what do we have less of as a result of technological
- time--we are busier
- we have lost the value of many skills and the
ability to do things for ourselves
- customer service
- efficiency often means one person expected to do
more, so less individual attention
- local community--people living nearby know what is
going on and help each other out
- appreciation for what we have
Consider the example of Walmart
Does technology give us improved quality of life?
- Walmart shows what you can do if you set out to use
technology to make products cheaper (and therefore improve
our standard of living)
- we can afford to buy more things
- now we expect that things will always get cheaper
- quality, how long things last, reliability, has gone
- gives one company monopoly power
- small businesses and small town centers are hurt
- do people buy too much?
- provides jobs, but are those less desirable jobs than
those in smaller stores?
- the Walmart low price focus has contributed to
manufacturing jobs moving out of the U.S.
Is impact on the environment a reason to question progress?
- we can afford more things
- do we live in a more pleasant environment (outside
- people feel a right to a good quality of life, which
depends on the actions of other people
- if we become richer in things but our environment
becomes worse are we really better off?
- standard of living is not the same thing as quality
of life--other things affect our quality of life besides
what we can buy (eg. a neighborhood playground)
technological progress may mean environmental harm that
reduces quality of life
- Technology did a lot of harm to the environment, but
in recent years that has been much improved
- Our rivers are probably healthier than they were 30
years ago, but they are certainly less healthy than they
were 150 years ago.
- technology harming the environment is no longer a
clearly visible pattern
- is it enough to have a pleasant environment?
- What we think of as natural often isn't natural,
for example the beautiful view may only be visible because
trees were cut down
- In the Clemson area, the forest that was here before
the land was cleared for agriculture will not grow
back--farming led to the loss of so much topsoil that the
shortleaf pines that used to be the dominant tree don't
grow well here any more
- as we control nature more and more there is the
danger we will turn wilderness into something like a zoo
do we lose something then?
- do we want an environment that is independent of
people or a garden--an environment changed to please us
- one way to look at environmental issues is to look at
how human beings are harmed
- another way is to look at what is lost
- There are still dramatic ways we are harming the
So we may want to take seriously the environmental costs of
- what is the cost of pollution--can directly cause
- health effects of pollution
- are we happier or better people if we get to enjoy
- there are things we can learn from nature
Questioning the harm
done by technology is not new:
Carlyle: men have become mechanical
- Henry David
Thoreau criticized the direction in which
civilization was going:
- "To have done anything just for money is to
have been truly idle."
- "Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called
comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but
positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. " Walden
- "Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me
- "If a man walks in the woods for love of them half
of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a
loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator,
shearing off those woods and making the earth bald
before her time, he is deemed an industrious and
- "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which
distract our attention from serious things. They are but
improved means to an unimproved end."
- "Thank God men cannot as yet fly and lay waste the
sky as well as the earth! "
- "What does education often do? It makes a
straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook."
- "How does it become a man to behave towards the
American government today? I answer, that he cannot
without disgrace be associated with it. "
what was the result of such questioning?
- John Muir's ideas came from transcendentalism:
nature is a mirror reflecting the Creator
- "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized
people are beginning to find out that going to the
mountain is going home; that wildness is necessity; that
mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as
fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as
fountains of life. "
- "Wander a whole summer if you can. Thousands of
God's blessings will search you and soak you as if you
were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted. If
you are business-tangled and so burdened by duty that
only weeks can be got out of the heavy laden year, give
a month at least. The time will not be taken from the
sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely
lengthen it and make you truly immortal. "
- In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the
great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The
galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds
heal ere we are aware. -- John of the Mountains
- Against the building of a dam in a valley near
Yosemite: "These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging
commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for
Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of
the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam
Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people's
cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever
been consecrated by the heart of man."
- "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we
find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." --
Summer in the Sierra
A couple of examples of how this has shifted:
- preserve special wilderness areas
- later you get zoning--preserve some balance of how we
use the land inside towns and cities
- we are willing to have regulation to create a nicer
- the depression caused people to question technology
in a new way
- 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair: "Science Finds--Industry
Applies--Man Conforms." --an example of belief in
- with the end of the modern era people
began to question progress more
- people mostly saw technology as a good thing but now
and then came face to face with the negative impacts
Carson's book Silent Spring, 1962
- pesticides were a great success story
- would it be a good thing to make mosquitoes
- harm was not so much to human beings as to birds
- wanting a pleasant environment includes the
pleasure of birdsongs
- galvanized public opinion
Yes, technology makes us richer,
but we aren't will to pay the price of a much worse
Can technology solve these problems without it costing more
Yes, the use of technology makes our production more
efficient, but does it make our work experience worse
Technological progress and economic growth have
made our lives better for the last 150 years
Is the progress we have seen in standards of living
- increased productivity in agriculture is one
measure of how technological progress makes us
richer--for each person employed in agriculture our
technological agriculture produces enough food to feed
more and more people.
- factories make more at lower cost and with fewer
- by 1920 many workers could afford consumer goods
made cheap by mass production, including automobiles
- in the 1950s predictions were common that by the
end of the century people would work less than 30 hours
a week and have more vacation time and be able to retire
younger. This was a prediction that existing
trends would continue. Technology would continue
to take away the burden of work
- can we keep going the way we are going without
increasing environmental damage
- irrigation leads to the build
of salt in the soil which makes it un-farmable
- our farming practices result in the cumulative loss
- global warming, due both to the internal combustion
engine and much of the generating of electricity, is
predicted to result in an increase in sea level of 3
meters by 2050 and 7 meters by 2100--what would the
effect of that be on coastal cities like Charleston?
- do we always have to face tradeoffs?
- could home solar energy create economic growth and
- technology can sometimes save us from having to make
- Technological fix--technology can give us easy
solutions to our problems
- but technology doesn't usually solve problems of
Are we ready to face limits?
- we do have the idea of preserving wilderness and open
space before it is gone
- we accept limits on hunting and fishing
on gasoline powered cars?
- we haven't fully absorbed the idea that the world can
absorb only so much pollution
- limits and medicine
- percentage of the economy going to medical care is
- can we cut waste--but waste is tricky to design
- related area--rationing medical care (example:
until the late 1980s if you were over 50 you generally
weren't eligible for kidney dialysis in England)
- can the cost of college education continue to grow
relative to median income?
- are we going to run out of oil?
- consumption cannot continue to increase
indefinitely--we don't face that