Technology, Culture, Economics, and Politics
Last week, I wrote concerning the central role of technology in bringing concerning the transition to environmental sustainability. This week, I would like to broaden the unit of study and discuss the central and causal role that technology plays in our lifestyle. Technological change has been influencing where we live and the way we live since humans invented agriculture and moved beyond “hunting and gathering” for sustenance. Within the 19th century, the event of train travel (1803) and telegraph (1837) enabled more rapid travel and communication over larger distances. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the event of the motorcar. The Wright Brothers got off the bottom in 1903, and the world got smaller and smaller. Air con was invented within the early 20th century and have become common in American homes starting within the Sixties. Refrigeration, radio, television, telephones, computers, the web, wireless communication, and in fact the smart phone have all led to massive changes in the best way we live and where we live.
The American suburbs were built around the car. The settling of the sunbelt was made possible by air-con. The explosive growth of worldwide tourism and international education were made possible by inexpensive jet travel. Facetime and Zoom have made it possible to have frequent face-to-face communication at a price so low to be virtually negligible. Which means that people can go to high school or can work all around the world and stay in day by day communication with family and friends on the push of a button. Global jet travel can place humans (and their contagious viruses) anywhere on the earth in a matter of hours or, at most, days.
Technological change has been the most important stimulator of rapid cultural change over the past two centuries. It has modified how we live and exposes us on to people and places which might be very different than the people and places we were exposed to locally. Food that was once specific to a nation or particular city is now available in all places. Latest mixtures of cuisine, music, theatre, art, and knowledge are being created attributable to the interactive effects of distinct places engaging with other distinct places. In some cases, people who find themselves extremely parochial and even xenophobic in outlook are usually not aware of the worldwide influences of their lifestyles. They don’t consider sushi as Japanese food and doubtless consider that pizza and bagels were invented in America.
We’re eager consumers of recent technologies, and after we use them, it changes how we live and sometimes how we view the world. This, in turn, impacts our economic interactions and consumption patterns. The event of a service economy with less manual labor has led to a sedentary workday (for a lot of) which in turn has led to the expansion of business gyms and the expansion of professions equivalent to physical training in addition to physical and occupational therapy. The invention of the web has led to an industry built on the internet—firms like Google, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Zoom. These firms have created massive changes in how we receive and process information. In turn, social media has led to narrowcasting of data and greater political polarization. It has also led to an ease of communication and data sharing that creates the potential for greater information transparency but in addition the creation of disinformation.
The news media continuously focuses on political trends and views, and sometimes its reporting gives the look that politics is the one, major force that dominates how people live, where they live, and what they do. I’m a trained political scientist, and I’m sure in some unspecified time in the future, I believed that as well. But through the years, I even have develop into something of a technological determinist. For instance, the fossil fuel industry and its advocates consider that public policy will determine our energy mix in the longer term. Policy could have an influence, but as I indicated last week, technological development is way more necessary. Today, we hear about national efforts to scale back global trade, and pundits opine that it will someway destroy global supply chains. These chains were built on the invention of containerized shipping, barcodes, and cheap communication and transportation. Those inventions remain powerful influences on corporate behavior. They permit firms to supply higher-quality and lower-cost goods and services and enhance their ability to compete within the still very global marketplace. While supply chains are being replaced by more durable supply webs, the competitive advantage of worldwide supply systems persists, even within the face of political obstacles. Firms find workarounds to avoid anti-trade policies. If the USA government limits imports from China, firms will find or construct a supplier in Vietnam, Indonesia, or Kansas. The expansion of automation and artificial intelligence makes the value of labor less necessary in manufacturing.
The causal sequence is that recent technology changes human behavior and culture. This, in turn, influences economic life and economic interactions. The pursuit of economic well-being is the one biggest influence on politics and public policy. However the strongest force on this causal sequence is technology. It initiates the behaviors that create change within the establishment.
The issue with the importance and influence of technology is that the positive impacts of recent technologies have to be balanced against their negative impacts or costs. America’s political economy is best equipped to monetize the advantages of recent technologies than regulate and mitigate the costs they carry. While using recent medical technology is regulated by the appliance of the precautionary principle, most other technologies are freely utilized and only regulated once their negative effects are so obvious they can not be ignored. Latest drugs are tested before they’re allowed to be marketed. In contrast, non-medical chemicals which might be proven to cause harm are rarely regulated.
The irony, in fact, is that after a technology is proven to cause harm, the standard approach to regulation is to require that one other technology be used to mitigate that harm, equivalent to using a catalytic converter to scale back motorcar pollution. One other response is to encourage the invention of a recent technology that eliminates the harm of concern, equivalent to an electrical vehicle, which has no tailpipe emissions. The problem then becomes the logistical and economic feasibility of implementing the brand new technology. In some cases, the brand new technology that was invented to switch a harmful technology has unanticipated advantages that might be marketed as a recent product. Seat belts and airbags made cars safer, and auto safety itself became a marketable “product.”
Then there are recent technologies that originally have limited impact but grow to have massive unanticipated impacts. The web was originally invented to share data for evaluation between U.S. government computers. It was invented to enhance data security and availability. Eventually, its commercialization by the U.S. government and the following development of web browsers and web sites enabled it to develop into a way to share information and entertainment. With the event of engines like google and now artificial intelligence, the utilization of this technology has expanded with many positive and negative impacts. Last week, here in Latest York, a “social media influencer” caused a near riot in Union Square, drawing a crowd for a “give-away” that went uncontrolled. The behaviors of social media influencers and people influenced have pre-internet origins, however the speed of communication that caused a crowd to assemble and grow in Union Square was made possible by the invention of the web. The usual operating procedures of the Latest York Police Department were challenged by this behavior, and can now must be modified.
The influence of technology on society, economics, and politics creates governance and regulatory issues which might be quite difficult. The technology of the web and smartphone-enabled economic interactions have created recent business models equivalent to those of Uber and Airbnb. Over many many years, governments found out easy methods to regulate taxis and hotels, but these recent businesses created novel issues that were obscure and regulate. Furthermore, Uber and Airbnb have a customer base that strongly supports the upkeep of those recent services. Governments often have difficulty understanding the technology or modified behaviors of those recent businesses enough to deal with negative impacts. We also see this same phenomenon in efforts to control social media and artificial intelligence.
Despite these issues, the force of technological innovation can’t be contained and shouldn’t be ignored. Extrapolating future developments from historic trendlines is a prescription for error. Technological development and diffusion are unpredictable. Latest technology will proceed to be the main reason for social, economic, and political change. It shouldn’t be a monolithic influence, but it surely is a dominant one.