Opinion: The gray area of technophobia

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Nicholas Hunter

It is very easy to be frightened by technology these days.

There is a constant barrage of news about information leaks and data dumps, from voter information accidentally dumped by an analytics company to hacks on Chipotle leading to stolen credit card information.

Automation feels like another threat brought on by advancing technology; there is the ever-growing concern — and, in some cases, genuine threats — to Americans in manufacturing and service jobs that machines are replacing workers.

That goes without mentioning an even more devastating threat that automation presents in the form of a tool for war. Drone strikes have become an extremely common aspect in combat and were a popular part of former President Barack Obama’s military strategy throughout the conflicts in the Middle East.

It’s even possible for people to take advantage of new technology: Check out this story by Andy Greenberg of Wired.com, who asked hackers to mess with his on-board computer system in his Jeep – with chilling results.

It is uneasy to see all the ways we’ve taken action out of our hands; It can make us feel helpless, like we don’t have control of our own lives at times. And it extends beyond automation into the dependency we have on things like search engines and social media.

I’ve painted here a seemingly apocalyptic picture of the world we live in, and it’s easy to buy that picture.

But things are not so black and white. With the unsettling and the devastating, we have created and discovered the world-changing and life-saving.

Technology today has made life better for countless people all over the world.

Advancement in disease care and treatment technology has raised the life expectancy of people with chronic illnesses across the board. For my condition, Cystic Fibrosis, life expectancy has gone up from less than 18 in the 1980s to almost 40 today.

Another advancement in chronic illness has come at a perfect marriage of medical advancements and another new technology: social media. Back in 2014, the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” was all over the internet; People would dump buckets of ice water on their heads and/or donate money to the ALS Association, then challenge friends to do the same.

It became a massive viral phenomenon, and after a seemingly endless series of absurd celebrity videos and dozens of demands by friends and family to follow suit, it quietly died out.

It turns out, the viral campaign worked. Last year, a study found that the funding from the Ice Bucket Challenge led to the discovery of a gene that appears to be a cause of ALS. A discovery that was, in the least, massively expedited by the funding from what was seen by many (including me) as a ridiculous way to help people with a chronic illness.

And this example doesn’t even begin to cover the wonders that new technologies are enabling.

Education materials are now easily available with only an internet connection. Services like Khan Academy and Crash Course are available for free, and others, such as Lynda.com provide lessons on a variety of subjects on a paid subscription.

The interconnectivity of the internet is another, often unsung, education tool that seemed impossible a few decades ago. Social media and search engines allow us to interact with people from the furthest corners of the world.

It doesn’t all have to be life-saving and world-changing, either. The internet provides an endless rabbit hole of the strange and wonderful, whether it be a flash game based on this absurd video or a cat chasing a duckling on a Roomba.

Like I said previously, the world of rapid technology advancement is by no means black and white. So, for all the bad that our innovation has brought into this world, we must also appreciate all the good. 

Nicholas Hunter is the opinion editor. Contact him at [email protected].