Letter to the Editor

A few comments concerning A. Staskevicius’ “Take a Lead in the Issues …” (5/22, p. 6).

First, the image & conclusions associated with the following statements do not square with the facts:.

“As technology makes our lives easier, it seems as if our society is growing more and more complacent, and less active in change. But is this laziness due to the technology being developed?”

To begin with, according to reliable studies, today most people in the US (and elsewhere in the “developed” world) work harder and longer than, say, fifty years ago.

Plus USAns have less (paid) vacation time that many of their W. European counterparts.

Add to that the all time high job stress & alienation, job insecurity (brought about by globalization, which was made possible by some key new technologies), and longer commute time (e.g. daily horrors of rush hour traffic).

You understand why so many people are drained of energy.

National laziness (apathy) has NOT increased, life has gotten a lot harder, in spite of all those high tech gadgets (“time & labor saving devices”) surrounding us, and sometimes because of them, we are so hard pressed for time!

I forgot to even mention the decreasing affordability of college for most American families!

So, while I fully agree with the authors plea for social activism, I think we must realize the steady worsening conditions in the daily life of most of our fellow Americans.

There are a lot of good, decent, people around, but the cost of nontrivial activism, such as ending the expanding wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the permanent occupation of Iraq, has gotten a lot higher.

The Internet (youtube etc.) is full of mistreated and abused (e.g. tasered) social activists.

Second, technology is not neutral.

As the article correctly states “technology is the fruit of ideas”; but then it adds “ideas are a symbol of progress.”

All ideas? Are technologies ethically or morally or politically neutral ?

Are they really “only a tool?”

If so, would you give a loaded gun to a five-year-old?

Or nuclear weapons to a Hitler ? Or keep building SUVs while ignoring and marginalizing public transportation? And what is progress?

I can cite several areas of modern life where things have measurably gotten worse, with the help of modern technology (intentionally or not ­with “laws of unintended consequences”)

For example, air travel with bad service, no dignity, no comfort, or loss of privacy to big business and big government. Not to mention, the sky-rocketing of ratio of civilian to military casualties (“collateral damage”) in modern warfare.

Modern technology (and the politics that go with it) induces passivity, atomization, isolation, alienation, consumption (mental and physical obesity).

Third, a remark on progress etc.

Technological progress may be absolute, but outside of extreme situations, like being hungry or on fire most of what matters in life. This means human happiness or satisfaction or contentedness, are all relative.

In other words, does anyone think that my parents’ generation was unhappy because they didn’t have computers and microwave ovens?

And my generation (post WWII boomers) did not have laptops in college, but we also didn’t worry about ecological or environmental catastrophe (or AIDS).

Of course, let’s not forget overpopulation or all the other issues that affect your generation. These are inextricably connected with certain modern technologies (policies).

These are big issues with no quick answers; I could go on and on, but I must stop here.

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your generation.

This is going to be a perilous century, perhaps more barbaric than the 20th.

John G. Papastavridis

ME Professor