Saturday, March 8, 2008

Technology and Its Discontents

I've just spent a wonderful evening with friends and neighbors. The talk turned to technology and we eagerly discussed new features on phones that are not quite phones anymore. They are communication/organization/information devices. They all have their own names, like nymphs in Greek mythology: Treos, blackberries, Razrs.

Although we can certainly reach more people and obtain more information, has it made our lives any better? Have we put this technology to its best primary use: to make our lives less nasty, brutish and short?

In the medical field, there's plenty of technology, yet it's often poorly employed. Doctors have become test-centric -- mostly due to their fee for service structure -- rather than focusing on results. Will an MRI relieve pain if a doctor doesn't have full access to his patient's medical records? Why can't a doctor call up all that information as easily as he can get a reservation for his favorite restaurant on his blackberry? Is something wrong here?

Acccording to the US Food and Drug Administration, medical errors kill about 98,000 people a year. That's nearly twice the number killed in all of the auto accidents in the US every year. Can this number be reduced? Surely if you can get a microwave to beep when it turns off, you can get an alarm to go off when someone's getting the wrong medication or too much of it.

This is not a screed on the US healthcare system, which is broken in so many ways, this blog can't do justice to this argument at the moment. I'm talking about technology becoming our servant instead of our muse. It should be both, but it isn't.

In the conclusion of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, he tells us "do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old, return to them....Do not seek so anxiously to be developed, to subject yourself to many influences to be played on; it is all dissapation."

1 comment:

ThinkResults said...

John - great view into our increasingly accelerating world of techno-hype-"progress".

I have learned from my daily work in the land of never-ending technological advance that to be truly inspired we must first have the muse within us - that no technology can ever act as substitute - not even the latest iPhone with Google inside!

We all know those who seem to create, produce and find more inspiration with a hammer/nail, pen/paper, needle/thread than all the great mass of blackberry addicts combined. The best technologies (like the three above, for example) are the ones that are the most easily bent, molded and directed through the creative plans and actions already in play by us, the user. You never even know they're there.

I don't know if turning away from the new and "to the old" could ever untangle the intertwining of man/machine that's been with us since the opposable thumb - but I do think that we can at least alter this social fabric for the better with a recognition that technology can only allow inspiration when we are its masters and we ourselves are the muse.