Some Reasonable Questions to Ask About Technology

In 1993 and 1994, fifty visionary thinkers came together to grapple with critical questions such as the links between the character of mega-technology and the social and ecological crises of our time. The group agreed on 78 reasonable questions such as: 

·Ecological—What are technology’s effects on the health of the planet and of the person?

·Social—Is it consistent with the creation of a communal, human economy?

·Political—Does it concentrate or equalize power?

·Practical & Vocational—Whom does it benefit? Can an ordinary person repair it? Does it depress or enhance the meaning of work?

·Moral, Ethical, Metaphysical, & Aesthetic—What values does its use foster? What is lost in using it? What aspect of the inner self does it reflect? Does it express love? Or rage?

In Ethics in an Age of Technology, Ian G. Barbour recognized that the challenge for our generation is to redirect technology toward realizing human and environmental values on planet earth. Barbour articulated new priorities for technology to integrate human values and to meet broad social goals instead of narrow market values: 

·Technology for Basic Human Needs—If the New World Order is to sustain peace and justice for all, then adequate food, shelter, health, and education must be available to everyone. Critical priorities are clean, human-scale technologies that promote agriculture, public health programs, and affordable housing in developing nations and low-income groups in advanced nations. We must remember that humanity has the technical capacity to eliminate absolute poverty and hunger if substantially increased international aid were directed to sustainable development designed to meet basic human needs.

·Re-Ordered Research Priorities—Our priorities, resources, and professional incentives must be guided by human needs and ecological wisdom and move away from defense-related research and projects that will provide even more luxuries for the privileged.

·Resource Use and Environmental Impact—Technological policy and design in all nations now needs to embrace the priorities of conserving natural resources, using energy efficiently, achieving low levels of pollution, and working in harmony with nature.

·Economic Efficiency—Economic criteria such as cheaper processes and lower prices are important and generally determine technological decisions. Environmental and worker safety regulations add to business costs, but if they were widely accepted, no competitors would be at a disadvantage. Full-cost accounting and new social and ecological efficiency standards and goals would make solar, wind, and other renewable, non-polluting technologies truly cost effective.

·Labor Intensity—With the growing threat of catastrophic climate change from burning fossil fuels, labor intensive, renewable energy technologies could become one of the biggest markets of the 21st century. As early as 1979, the U.S. Council of Economic Priorities reported that investment in energy-efficient technologies produces four times as many jobs as building new power plants.

·Human Scale and Relative Simplicity—As Barbour explains, these simpler systems are more understandable, less vulnerable to breakdown, and have less serious consequences when breakdowns do occur. Equipment can be locally adapted and repaired which is helpful to people who are poor or committed to voluntary simplicity.

·Job Satisfaction—Far too much work, especially in high-tech industries, is alienating, extremely stressful, and spiritually impoverishing. All work needs to provide sufficient income support for basic human and family needs; yet true job satisfaction requires workplaces that are safe and non-toxic.

·Democratic and Community Control—More human-scale and locally controlled techno-systems permit wider levels of input in decision-making, the use of more local resources, and greater autonomy, self-reliance, and adaptability to basic human needs and the local social and cultural environment. Credit unions, producers’ co-operatives, community agriculture, and rural electric co-ops are examples of local institutions.

Earth-Based Technologies

Human engineering needs to be guided by, and should function in an integral relationship with, the masterful technologies of Earth, not in a despotic or disturbing manner or under the metaphor of conquest. In the transport system of vascular plants, in the energy conversions of photosynthesis, in the efficiencies of the hydrological and mineral cycles, in the communication systems of genetic codes are technological models of great power and elegance.

Needed now are bio-centric human technologies that are coherent with Earth technologies, and that would enable our agricultural, energy, architectural, and other projects to be carried out in an integral relationship with Earth’s functioning.

Self-Actualization Technologies

Riane Eisler, who has written several books on a partnership model of social organization, describes (personal and social) “technologies of actualization” that deserve substantial public and private support in the 21st century:

“There are four types of technology. There are technologies of production, reproduction and destruction. The fourth type is the technology of actualization, which facilitates the realization of our highest human potentials... Personal technologies include meditation for spiritual growth and biofeedback for self-healing... Technologies of actualization are also social technologies such as public education, peace conferences, representative politics, equitable economics, democratic families, and other human inventions for the construction of the kind of society that can facilitate, rather than impede, the realization of our highest human potentials: what I call a partnership rather than a dominator model of social organization.” 

Technology—Our Destruction or Salvation?

Throughout the world, multiple and converging crises are worsening—cultural, social, political, economic, environmental, moral, ethical, and spiritual. Destructive mega-technologies, such as fossil fuels, weapons of mass destruction, and profit-driven telecommunication systems, primarily serve narrow commercial, political, and military interests that degrade or endanger much of the planet.

Now is the time for policy-makers, business leaders, so­ci­al scientists, environmentalists and citizens everywhere to join together to identify and implement ways that Earth-based technologies, social technologies, and technologies of self-actualization can help us attain our highest human potentials and create a world that is peaceful, just, sustainable and filled with beauty and magic. 

Note: this is a shortened version of the original article, which, along with references, is available from New Renaissance, by email. 

Michael Whitty, professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Dan Butts, free-lance writer on education, social and global issues at the Global Education Project, are co-directors of The World Institute for Future Values. They can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol.10, No.3