Monday, March 7, 2011

Thoughts of a Naive Economist: Technology's Dream

I used to have a vision of a beautiful future, when I was quite young (around 11 years old). My family had a computer at home with a spinach green screen; the computer started up in dos and required the entry of a series of complex codes (written out on a notecard and taped to the desk corner) in order to use the word processing program. We had an Atari and we rented a VCR from the grocery store in order to watch movies at our birthday parties. Home computer technology was in its nascency; we were at the edge of the dream that technological advancements would bring a brighter future for all.

I had my vision one day while sitting in literature class. The teacher's name was Ms. B and I can picture the giant chalkboard at the front of the room. The memory of that daydream is so vivid that I can smell the pencils and paper wrapped textbooks tucked in my plastic desk bin. It is a dream I have carried with me and pulled up again and again with slightly less optimism at each review.

In this dream, technology is pervasive and the technology is beautiful. Technology allows for free time. Technology makes food to be plentiful and nourishing. Technology allows knowledge to be freely shared. Technology renders war, scarcity, and contentiousness obsolete. Technology makes acquisition of money and personal property unnecessary. Material goods are so plentiful that every person has exactly what they need.

Each person in the world has a useful job but need only spend one day per week doing that job. The rest of a person's time is devoted to reading, writing, drawing, creating art. Families enjoy spending time together and possess ample free time to do so. Everyone wears togas and long draped Grecian gowns in soft flowing white. The grass is green and the buildings are elegant, refined, and inviting. My dream world is a world of intelligent people pursuing knowledge and beauty and making the world better each day.

In the dream, people no longer define themselves by their material possessions. Rather, people define themselves by their knowledge and by their ability to create beautiful thoughts, songs, and art. The only source of competition is for greater understanding.
Such was my childhood dream of the possibilities of technological development.

As I think about the state of the world today, I wonder how technology could be so advanced and yet the state of the world be so very backwards. People (who have jobs) work more and more. Each day brings more contention and incivility in social interactions. As a society, we embrace and celebrate ignorance. We encourage relentless egotism and lavishly reward selfish pursuit of corporate revenues at the expense of the environment and the psychological health of society as a whole.

I know that my childhood dream was born out of a naive idealism about human society and human nature. It is a place that will never exist. But, it is worthwhile to hold on to pieces of that dream. We should do better. We can do better. It is just a matter of figuring out how...

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