Technological Hubris

12 07 2013

I will start this post with a disclaimer:  I love technology.  Technology is what makes us largely human, it’s what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom……

Of course, not all technologies are created equal.  And sometimes, it tests us.  It’s sure testing me.  At the moment, the Citroen won’t start.  It’s crammed full of bells and whistles, which is fine, until somewhere deep within its internals something, something probably quite simple, fails and kills the whole beast.  Complexity has serious downsides.

The other day, the TPR valve on our hot water system failed.  These valves are there to relieve pressure in the event the entire tank fills with boiling water and steam starts to try and blow the thing up… and when you have not one but two unregulated heat sources connected to it (solar panels and a combustion stove) you really want to make sure this stuff works.  Especially when your hot water tank is inside the house, as ours is, because if it blew up……  When fitted to a lowly electric hot water storage tank, these valves are meant to be ‘tested’ every 6 months or so by pulling the little lever attached to it.  This ensures that the valve isn’t sticky from lack of use, and will open in case the thermostat fails and the water is heated to 100º.  Ours of course gets a real workout, because we never run out of hot water, and it’s usually at 90+º, and it ‘dumps’ constantly, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s at its strongest.  Well this time, it opened, and it stayed that way….  $115 later, it was fixed; a simple 5 minute job.  It was eight years old, so I can’t complain.  But…..  what happens in eight years time, possibly in a world in collapse mode, and such a valve is either hard or impossible to get…???

Whenever technology is mentioned, everyone starts thinking about their smart phones or iPads.  But recently, a builder mate of mine came for a visit, and the AGA was lit.  He walked up to it and said “isn’t this technology marvellous…  allowing you to have a huge hot fire right inside your house without burning it down or filling it with smoke…”  He too owns a combustion cooker.  Most people just say “you’ve got one of these?”  Someone rang about buying the house the other week and mid conversation said “you’ve got an AGA..?”  At least he sounded like he knew what one was.

But I digress, because I have found a great article in the Guardian, “How technology has stopped evolution and is destroying the world”, about why we need to dismantle our techno-industrial society…

It starts with “It has become something of a mantra within the sustainability movement that innovations in technology can save

Doug Tomkins

Doug Tomkins

the world.  But rather than liberating us, Doug Tompkins, the co-founder of retail brands The North Face and Esprit, believes technology has enslaved us and is destroying the very health of the planet on which all species depend.”  Boy oh boy, I really relate to that.

There is a widely held view that technology is extending democracy; Tomkins argues that it is concentrating even more power in the hands of the elites.  What troubles him the most, according to the Guardian, is that the very social and environmental movements that should be challenging the destructive nature of mega-technologies, have instead fallen under their spell.  Hence this constant call for 100% renewables by 2020 or some such crap.  NEVER do you see making do with less from the Greens or the Wilderness Society or WWF or the myriad other green groups.

“We have been poor on doing the systemic analysis and especially in the area of technology criticism,” says Tompkins, who has been deeply influenced by former Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who called for a dismantling of the techno-industrial society.  Until we get better at that, I think we’re cooked, we’re going to continue to extinct species and we’re going to continue to dig the hole deeper of the whole eco-social crisis.”

“If you just hold your cell phone for 30 seconds and think backwards through its production you have the entire techno-industrial culture wrapped up there. You can’t have that device without everything that goes with it. You see mining, transportation, manufacturing, computers, high-speed communications, satellite communications, it’s all there, you see and it’s that techno-industrial culture that’s destroying the world.”

Tompkins derides those who pin their hopes on technological developments in areas such as wind, solar and nuclear as coming from the smart resource management school, saying they fail to understand that this will not address the core issue, which is that capitalism is addicted to growth.

“Resource efficiency is the wrong metric,” he says. “We should use nature as the measure, using nature’s wisdom as a template for our economic systems.  Capitalism doesn’t function when it starts to contract and we can see that quite clearly right here in the Eurozone. It’s like pushing a giant monster underwater that’s gasping for air. It goes nuts. Capitalism may have all sorts of things that are good, but ultimately it’s bad for everyone.”

Instead of adding to our knowledge, Tompkins contends computers and smartphones represent “deskilling devices; they make us dumber.  We’re immersed in a system that now requires the use of a cell phone just to get around, just to function and so the logic of that cell phone has been imposed on us.”  And more often than not these devices are less than useful, or may even kill us, GPS’s being one that sticks in my mind after that trip to Millmerran……

“The computer is a mechanism for acceleration, it accelerates economic activity and this is eating up the world. It’s eating up resources, it’s processing, it’s manufacturing, it’s distributing, it’s consuming. That’s what the computer’s real work does and it does that 24/7, 365 days a year, non-stop just to satisfy our own narrow needs.”

Tompkins foresees a dark future dominated as he puts it by “more ugliness, damaged landscapes, extinct species, extreme poverty, and lack of equity and says humanity faces a stark choice; either to transition now to a different system or face a painful collapse.”

Now where else have you heard that before…….?

“The extinction crisis is the mother of all crises. There will be no society, there will be no economy, there will be no art and culture on a dead planet basically. We’ve stopped evolution.”

A man after my own heart.  Now I have to make a decision on what to do with the Citroen.  It suffers from a whole collection of techno stuff that’s stopped working, and costs an arm and a leg to fix, none of which I can do myself, and quite likely will cost more than it’s worth.  Whilst the ute has been a reliable replacement for the time being, Glenda has never driven it, is not keen to do so, and wants to either replace the car, or fix it, because it’s become an essential part of her mother’s life support.  I tell you, this must be the ultimate expression of technological serfdom.

And finally, I want to share a short video I found yesterday, “Did You Know?/Shift Happens”…….



5 responses

12 07 2013

yep, dumber, slower, less capable, bigger butts from constant computing, driving and grey matter evaporating…..all true. Mike, its time for the horse & cart again.

13 07 2013

EVs are better than ICE. If you want to challenge your brain and body, consider the bike. As for the ‘grand ol days of yore’ they tend to become less enchanting the closer I look.

13 07 2013

Flog it off and buy something that costs less than what it costs to fix it …

I’m beginning to think it is still the industrial military complex rather than the techno industrial complex that is our problem. The arms race never stopped, as Prism demonstrates, and technology is a slave to that, and population growth. Population growth will surely stop, sometime, but it is doubtful if the arms race will, so long as there are two people incapable of not admiring the prowess of the other.

13 07 2013

There some sections of the environmental/sustainability movement who are advocaton simplicity rather than just more technology. See

13 07 2013

*% * !* advocating

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