Where is Hi-Tech taking us?


Fifty years ago, you would hear the word “technology” on rare occasions, but you would hear the term “technical” used in reference to books or some educational institution such as technical schools for land surveyors, toolmakers, bookkeepers, etc. After man landed on the Moon we began to hear the word technology more often, in a crescendo that reached saturation point, so much so, we then started to use the hyperbolic “hi-tech”. Quite astonishingly, most sons and daughters of the computer age firmly believe that true technology is an invention of their time.
Technology, per se, existed since the cave age, and thrived throughout the ages of written history, but the actual term surfaced in the early 1600s in England. Shortly after, the fork made its first appearance on our table, and by the 1650s France also began to use the term “technology”. At the time, it connoted a body of technical words. One hundred years later the age of Enlightment and Diderot’s Encyclopedie gave a definition of the term that has remained with us ever since.
Yet, there are many differing definitions, but in a general sense the Science Dictionary’ brief definition of “technology” is perhaps the best: “The use of scientific knowledge to solve practical problems, especially in industry and commerce. The specific methods, materials, and devices used to solve practical problems.
A slow-moving western world typified the early Middle Ages; nonetheless, the new millennium saw the dawn of a new culture where the resuscitation of business, the seeds of nationhood, and the birth of bourgeoisie were met by truly conducive developments.
Buttons, underwear, trousers, horseshoes, double-entry and the use of zero in mathematics were introduced. By the time Leonardo da Vinci and Columbus came on the scene, people were mesmerized by windmills, time machines, harquebuses, gunpowder, the compass, nautical charts, a organized and accessible postal service and, last but not least, the printing press, and with it, by the early 1600s, the advent of newspapers.
One question, though, lingers in our minds: would technology prosper so much without greed? It is a well established fact that between the 1550s and 1570s the Spaniards were able to perfect a new technology which enabled them to increase the production of American silver ten-fold. The new process which consisted of treating the silver ore with mercury was used for the first time in New Spain in 1557; by 1571 the new technology had reached Potosi.
With the increased production of Mexican and Peruvian silver pieces of eight Spanish imperialism reached its zenith. Carlo Maria Cipolla described the exploitation of gold and silver mines in the New World as a “true saga of blood, oppression, courage, and covetousness for riches.”
It mattered very little that the population of Mexico from early 1500s to early 1600s went from 25 millions to a little more than 1 million. A similar holocaust was in inflicted on the Peruvians. Has anyone ever apologized for these horrific annihilations of entire nations?
European penetration of Africa proved more complex as tropical fevers and malaria decimated the invaders. How complex was it? Well, suffice it to say that as late as 1876 only ten percent of Africa was under white occupation.
Throughout the 1600s and 1700s the spread of technology was often associated with the migration of skilled craftsmen who settled in foreign countries. At this time the science of chemistry had developed from medieval alchemy, and with the invention of the telescope  astronomy had gained greater relevance. More machinery was invented, and forms of crops rotation were introduced. Human labour got easier, and more stunning innovations, in turn, changed the course of history and generated more confidence in the future – a 180 degree change of direction and philosophy.
Irrespective of contemporary definitions, technology had made itself apparent and its increasing association with science was creating a true combustion and great momentum.
The confidence and enthusiasm for technology continued throughout the ensuing centuries and the optimism these factors generated was labelled “technicism” – a benefactor of society. Interestingly enough, some scholars have described the revolutionary Karl Marx as a techno-optimist.
The evolution of technology continues into our millennium at an unprecedented speed, and it appears as if it actually is in its infancy: take wind power and solar energy as examples.
Nowadays, you buy a new car, a new computer, a new cell-phone and in a matter of days if not hours, your purchase is outdated as new technology imparts new velocity and brings new, spectacular solutions and alternatives to your old needs.
Ironically, science and technology seem to be moving too fast and there are widespread signs of the public being unable to adjust and catch up with all the innovations, thus generating a justified fear of becoming marginalised.

This, actually, is the great dilemma of the men and women of the third millennium, old or young. There are recurring symptoms of resistance to the new, unending and unimaginable  technologies.
Even when it comes to communicating effectively, many persons resent the automation of public services, the answering machines with messages telling you are “dumb” and outdated. It has become increasingly more difficult, when you call a bank and a government office or agency to speak to a true human being.
Furthermore the financially stressful attempt to keep up with the latest tablet, cell-phone, laptop, software etc. – be it a single person or every member of the family (as it usually is) – leaves no possibility of saving some money at the end of the month. Worse yet, many consumers have chronic credit card debt.
More recently we are seeing the great progress made by robotics, which in many ways translates into less jobs for the mortals and more money for the “one-percent” richies-rich. This loss of common touch and the cold-blooded decisions made on the basis of cost cutting to survive or, better yet, to increase profits is creating pessimism and instability – a recipe for catastrophe. Remember Newton: to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction. Someone ought to be reminded not to make Marie Antoinette’s mistake: the “silly” populace  did not like her cake then, and will like it even less in the 21st century.
The clouds on the horizon are darker and bigger, and hurricane-force winds are literally going in unexpected directions, while technological progress is perceived by more and more people as a threat to their social, economic, and mental survival. To many troubled souls it begins to look like as if it was better when it was worse. Our minds look for the good old days when you said good morning to everyone, including your cat, and there was reciprocation, civility, respect, and purring too.
Some readers may think that this confabulation is to suggest that technology and science are bad. Not at all, science and hi-tech have done a lot of good to humanity and scholars have credited technology as a major agent for global change and extended human life. Nevertheless, billions of people continue to be excluded from the benefits of technology and this ought to be changed.
Experts believe that we need more technology, not less; but let us suppose that technology and science were not money-making, not at the levels they are making nowadays, would there be the same impetus for them? If Viagra, Lipitor, diet pills, cell-phones, cars, and personal computers were selling for a fraction of the present selling price do you think they would exist? Yet, if the price was a fraction of the current price they would still make their manufacturers very rich.
The moral is that technology is all too often fuelled by greed, extreme, irresponsible greed – how else would those “generous” billionaires make their duly publicized philanthropic donations in the hundreds of millions of dollars? Of course, donations do not go solely to universities, hospitals and orphanages, they also “quietly” go to political parties – some may call it corruption!
Futurist Owen Graves thinks technology is taking mankind to an unhealthy place. He concludes: “Stephen Covey once said, ‘we are the only creatures on this earth that have the ability to stop and think before reacting’, let’s all exercise that muscle when it comes to embracing new technology or existing technologies.”
In 2014, Pope Francis’ message opened the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  In it, the Pontiff praised the role that modern business has played in improving health care, education and communications.  But he also said it is “intolerable” that hunger continues to devastate many struggling economies. The Pope urged forum delegates to “ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”
Guest Editorial by Giorgio Migliavacca