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[flagged] (2016) Technology destroys people and places. I’m rejecting it (theguardian.com)
57 points by c1sc0 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

>Technology destroys people. We’re already cyborgs (pacemakers, hearing aids) of a sort, and are well on our way to the type of Big Brother dystopia of the techno-utopians

This one cuts quite close to the bone and I find this comment quite shortsighted and in poor taste.

My mother's life was saved by some extremely swift handling by medical professionals and (here it comes) technology. Where I'm from, if someone has a heart attack everyone in the vicinity who is trained gets a text message with the location and/or situation.

By sheer luck one of these people was in the neighbourhood and got a text message. By another stupidly lucky coincidence this woman had a defibrillator at home, which was nearby. She ran to her home, got the machine, and ran to our home and tried to restore my mother's heartbeat.

I don't know the details but my mother was saved by technology that day and she's been living roughly 10 years now with a little machine next to her heart. Every time her heart beats in an irregular fashion the machine gives a little zap (which hurts, a lot) and restores the beat. Luckily, this happens rarely, but still.

I'm not sure where I am going with this rant, but someone very dear to me was saved by technology, and i'd take the cyborg life over being dead.

>Where I'm from, if someone has a heart attack everyone in the vicinity who is trained gets a text message with the location and/or situation.

Can you elaborate on the technical side of detection of the heart attack and the alerts? Also where do you live?

Pace-makers! Hearing aids! Dystopia!

He's gone and hexed himself with reductio and doesn't even know.

> but slowness only became a bad thing when time became money.

This. After downscaling my expenses and started working at 25-50% it's amazing how much time I got now compared to working full time. We really under value time and have a weird perspective on it and what we can use it for. Walking to the shop can take 45 minutes for me now which seem ridiculous for some when a car ride takes 5-10 minutes. But what is not accounted for is that slowness itself has value, I have time for reflection while walking, I get fresh air and move my body, I don't need to worry about a car and its costs. The same goes for food. I used to do alot of take outs when I worked full time but now I don't hesitate to prepare and cook for 2-3 hours, I get a much more intimate experience with food, I learn things and get to eat food that taste great.

This. Indeed. Overall we spend far too much time working to afford “necessities” & “conveniences” that are neither.

Why stop there? I don’t think Native Americans lived in log cabins. Antibiotics and modern medicine should undoubtedly be cast to the trash heap as well. I can’t help but feel like simply limiting screen time is the solution here...

That's not taking it nearly far enough. Our distant ancestors were very adept at destroying ecosystems and causing extinctions with only flint and spears. They massively disrupted every environment they explored. If we want to live non-destructively, we should ban even the use of fire and sharp sticks. In one way of looking at it, all technology, even the most primitive, is sufficient for destruction. From another point of view, the tool itself is not the real problem.

...and I think we will start seeing that happen. I relate this to the Pamphlet wars when printing became cheap. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamphlet_wars

History repeats itself...well it's at least similar.

Thank you for posting this. I had not heard of the Pamphlet wars.

Primitivism is justly derided, but there are other solutions to the alienation caused by our modern money driven technological society. We can have a better world if we ask for one.

Language and agriculture, too, were raw deals for humans (see Sapiens), and should be dismantled as soon as possible.

I wrote something like this last year https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2017/2/13/i-miss-th...

I miss the face to face interactions, I miss community, I miss boredom and a considerably simpler life. At the same time though I love that I have friends all over the world, many of which I've never met, but know just as well as local friends. I love that I can go on YouTube and see all sorts of amazing and interesting things. I love that I can share and discuss ideas with strangers on BBS/forums/sites like HN and Reddit. I love that an an adapter from Automatic tells my phone data from my car that then gets pushed to various places via IFTTT so that I can create a record of all of my driving and vehicle diagnostic alerts for potential use in the future.

As I said in my blog post I have my foot in both worlds, being born in the mid 80's I was there for the birth of the modern internet and still had several years of my life where I didn't even know the internet existed. Now the internet is effectively an augmentation to my own person.

Modern society is worse given your value structure because your value structure is a product of, and therefore tailored for, an "older" society. Yes, there are other people who feel the same way: people who were instilled with the same value structure by the same society you grew up in. No, I don't think there is anything necessarily fundamental here that will apply to future generations.

I totally agree. Rather than choosing, I'd like to start embracing both in their own spaces. A retreat to slow down and get in touch with nature and a home office to get out, get productive and use tech for good.

I think his heart is in the right place, but the execution is over-reactive.

Here are my ideas that I want to implement for myself: 1. Move back to dumb phones, landlines, or a wifi phone. 2. Limit movie/video consumption to a fixed time limit per day. For example, 1 hour a day. 3. Re-use old technology/re-cycle technology waste before buying new. 4. Move back to bare metal servers, and self-host. 5. Use simpler technologies that have no environmental impact. 6. Only invest in technology that is repairable and long-lasting.

> I think his heart is in the right place, but the execution is over-reactive.

I feel similarly.

Over the past year or so I've had a set of changes in personal lifestyle and philosophy. I've become very anti-possessions and very anti-technology. At first, getting rid of all social media, cell-phones, TVs, and such. Being a software engineer, I have to have a computer, and I kept my old iPod Touch, stuck on iOS 6, for music and reading a few eBooks (shout-out to the Kindle folks, the old versions still work!).

I'm slowly forming a sort-of Amish Hackers[0] rubric for evaluation. Does something help or hurt personal physical and mental well-being, does it help social unit cohesion, or is it purely consumptive and or narcissistic? As a result, I've slowly brought some things back.

Do I need smartphone to take selfies so I can become "Instagram famous?" No. But communicating on-the-go is necessary, so a feature phone it is. Do I need a TV? Do I need a fancy Fight Club Ikea apartment? No. But I do need a place where I can reasonably entertain guests.

Like most things, it's about finding a healthy balance between "consumer zombie" and "Richard Stallman Impersonator of the Year."

[0] - http://kk.org/thetechnium/amish-hackers-a/

I appreciate the Amish Hackers reference, thank you.

Agreed. The steps that he's taking are too drastic.

I really like the steps that you're taking. I feel like the issue that the author fell into is that he... cares too much about too many things? I know that sounds selfish, but by focusing on improving ourselves I feel like we can all help build a better society.

Bare metal self-hosting is cost-ineffective and over-complicated, and will never happen at any non-trivial scale. Even among the competent people, most of us simply have better things to do after work.

We need something like an app store for self-hosted apps, on top of a mesh/P2P network with built-in load balancing, redundancy, and sandboxing; ideally with a distributed data-store. Installing and running Wekan should be no more difficult than creating a Trello account, and should provide a similar level of service availability (say within three nines). Until then, self-hosting is completely infeasible for >99% of the global population.

All of this is technically feasible, someone just has to do the hard work.

> (I’ve never found doing the work to buy and maintain them particularly convenient).

They ain't called conveniences because they're convenient to purchase and maintain. They're called conveniences because they're more convenient than beating your clothes with rocks down at the river, and more convenient than skinning a rabbit and turning it over a spit.

Anyway, he seems to have thought all this out. I'm glad he's doing this, and I'm glad he's not presenting it as a solution for everyone.

There should be a middle way between this and our current lifestyle. Eschewing all technology also means eschewing the positive things technology provides to us.

>>There should be a middle way between this and our current lifestyle

Exactly. There are countless ways to live. There are outliers and extremes that point the way to a sane middle ground. How else would we know the middle without exploration of the fringes?

What if he gets sick? Will he refuse modern medicine too and turn to traditional ones? Because if he accepts modern medicine, then he does use modern technology, that is, its results, so he still relies on other people working on technology which modern science uses a lot.

So he enjoys the benefits without sharing the costs.

Without technology I'd be 100% deaf and effectively locked out of the cutting edge of the working world given the added friction of communicating.

Without technology, I'd be paralyzed or dead as I required 15 major surgeries in my childhood to stabilize a [unnamed condition]. (It bears saying - worth it. It was hell, but it was worth it.)

Without technology, I'd be blind, and again - have a much higher chance of being locked out of the ability to sustain myself financially, not to mention be robbed of my love of design / illustration.

Without technology, there would be a great deal less souls on this earth - (more than I think most would realize since we don't typically care to flaunt our reliance on technology.)


Ironically, I'm also as "minimal technology" as they come - still use a dumb phone out of privacy and notification concerns, will never buy a voice assistant, am only on the social networks that my job demands, et cetera. Acknowledging that tech does wonders certainly does not mean you have to be blind to the horrors that it's equally capable of, or that you're defenseless against it.

I am ... very tired of having to defend a part of my existence from statements like these, where more compassionate thinking could illuminate a thousand more examples like the above.

Very tired.

Interesting opinion piece. I've previously written about the rise of technoskepticism: http://jcfrei.com/technological-primacy/

(2016) . He posts updates to The Guardian, e.g. this one.


It feels he is not really wrong on many of his points, but this ain't a solution that he is proposing.

Technology is not going away, we need to learn to live with it and have it as a tool to better our lives. It feels that today technology has too much control over people lives. The effects of social media are becoming better understood by the day. Maybe it is time to separete better which technologies are really useful from those that are hardly so.

Life is too short to be spent on Instagram (soon deploying it's lite version to many developing countries...)

I have fantasies of similar lifestyle. And to an extent rebooting technology by using simple tools, simpler ways and materials. Maybe just enough to build optics and radio.

I agree with him that we're at a point where technology is backfiring. 100 years ago anything was pure improvement. Food conservation, mobility, television. But I feel we're hitting a ceiling.

> Technology destroys people.

I'd disagree. Technology is a tool like any other; it may destroy you, but that's anecdotal. It is not a requirement that it destroy people or take them away from what they find important.

“The current regulatory framework in place in the majority of jurisdictions is allowing technology to become a net negative for both people and society as a whole”.

I make a distinction between science and technology for the sake of this comment. Science brings us biomedical breakthroughs, space probes, and renewables; technology brings us Black Mirror dystopian futures.

(“Technology destroys people” is a lazy argument, but understandable in a time when it’s rare for long form discussion to take place where the depth of the issue can be examined collaboratively)

It sounds like our variant of capitalism is the system that's destroying people, not technology.


I feel like you get this type of article from Americans as a cowardly way to avoid criticising unchecked capitalism or dealing with and engaging with their politics as a means to build a better government.

Easier to blame a nebulous concept and the individual, then advocate for any sort of group cooperatism - even though as a species cooperating is what we've always done.

I don't think it's capitalism per se that's at issue, rather its execution: unethical capitalism is bad. Making money is not.

Hmm... isn't science itself a form of technology? :)

I think you’re right and my post has the error.


language is a technology

He has some valid complaints, as did Ted Kaczynski. Dropping out of the world seems as unlikely to make anything better as blowing up random people.

Isn't this the kind of understandable reaction that is explored in 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance"?

I have a new hypothesis I'm terming "sublimation of criticism." This is likely not original since this isn't my field, but here goes.

The campaign to exterminate any alternative political discourse in the West has been so successful that it's now very hard to even talk about any alternative to state corporatist capitalism. This system has many downsides and generates many negative externalities and these are clearly visible to many people, but since the system can't be directly criticized people try to pin its shortcomings on other things like "technology" (an absurdly general term) or thrash around chasing conspiracy ghosts. It's a kind of philosophical scapegoating and fantasizing as a substitute for actual directed criticism.

In other words the effectively prohibited criticism of the system sublimes into other areas.

Maybe state corporatist capitalism destroys people and places. Try that.

I wonder if this phenomenon was common in the late USSR?

> it's now very hard to even talk about any alternative to state corporatist capitalism

Have you suffered persecution from the state for discussing such alternatives? Have you been arrested, beaten, your documents confiscated - all for discussing the pros and cons of "state corporatist capitalism"? Have you spent years in camps for it?

Because that's what was common in the late USSR. Of course, it was much more civilized than early USSR, when you'd be executed for discussing much more minor things, so that's an improvement.

Why not call it technology like in the article? What would anti-technology look like?

> it's now very hard to even talk about any alternative to state corporatist capitalism

I don't think this is true: Millenials and Gen-Z are increasingly supportive of socialism and sometimes outright communism. The party machinery of the traditional left has been resisting this effort, as you say, but that wall is crumbling and will not last forever; e.g. see the improbable successes of Corbyn, Sanders, etc.

We can unquestionably say that communism has destroyed people and places.

We can also unquestionably say that communism is not the only alternative. For the record I am not an authoritarian communist and I don't think it's a good alternative.

I was very specific. I said "state corporatist capitalism" because there are even capitalist alternatives to that such as voluntarist libertarian capitalism and communitarian/co-op oriented capitalism. Our system is one of state-backed corporate capitalism backed by a centrally managed financial system and closely tied to defense and intelligence agencies. It was accurately termed the "military-industrial complex" by Dwight Eisenhower, a communist... err... wait... Eisenhower was a conservative Christian and a Republican.


Your comment is exactly what I mean. We can't discuss alternatives because there seems to have been some campaign to gerrymander the language and discourse such that any questioning of the official system instantly implies that you're a Leninist or alternately a Hitlerist.

You wondered about the USSR. I was replying to that.

My point about the USSR was about how people will often be in denial when the dominant socioeconomic system is displaying severe problems and may be on the brink of failure.

I see, I misunderstood then.

> Maybe state corporatist capitalism destroys people and places. Try that.

Hierarchies destroy people and places. The alternative is lack of a hierarchy, which is anarchy. Which are you more comfortable with, typing on your $1000 phone’s keyboard?

Humans will always form hierarchies, but it is possible to have more equitable hierarchies where I’m still not beaten to death for my iPhone.

What does “equitable hierarchy” mean? Equality of outcome? No thanks. Equality of opportunity? Fine, that’s what we have today.

>...that’s what we have today.

I agree with everything you said except for this part. We certainly don't have equality of opportunity today. Maybe in small microcosms of the first world countries, but there is a lot more work that needs doing in most of the world.

>The campaign to exterminate any alternative political discourse in the West has been so successful that it's now very hard to even talk about any alternative

I’ve seen no evidence of that and with the severity of your claim should you should include a source or two.

Perhaps you’re confusing people disagreeing with your view with people attempting to silence you. Those are two very different things.

Recall the Occupy Wall Street protest where they camped out in downtown NYC for a month? They broke all sorts of laws but were allowed to stay. That doesn’t sound like “extermination”.

What I do see is violence from communist and anarchists against speech that they deem fascists, but are really just moderate voices. I can provide video links if you need, but it’s common knowledge at this point.

We still live in a democracy and so long as we do, you’re going to have to live with consensus, which doesn’t see things your way.

Yes I guess a literal neo-nazi terrorist attack didn't happen on American soil.


Oh wait it did. And so have numerous ongoing campaigns of harassment and death threats against any dissenting voices. Like this guy: https://www.12news.com/mobile/article/news/local/valley/phoe...

Even advocated for by the current President of the United States: https://newrepublic.com/minutes/128896/beat-protester-trumps...

I don’t think an organized group like Antifa promoting “by any means necessary” and getting tacit approval from the main stream left is comparable to one (universally condemned) deranged lunatic, a bunch of keyboard warriors, and something stupid Trump said once.

There aren’t right leaning groups out there organizing violent protests at college campuses trying to prevent left leaning speakers from being heard.

>Perhaps you’re confusing people disagreeing with your view with people attempting to silence you. Those are two very different things.

Actually, if they're talking to random people around them, those people probably are trying to silence them.

It's just about impossible to have rational discourse about politics with a random group of people these days. Far too many of them don't understand how to have a rational conversation about something and quickly fall to just trying to get their way and make the other person shut up. There's no scenario in their minds where they end up parting ways amicably with someone who doesn't believe as they do.

I know some people who seem perfectly rational until you find out that they believe all cops are corrupt, all white people are racist, or everyone who voted for Trump condones racism. (Among other touchy subjects.) They get so mad about these issues that you can't even provide them proof of how wrong they are because they'll just flat call you a liar and ignore everything you say.

If you are racist, sexist, or whatever they have a hot button about, they'll ignore everything you say on every topic as well. To them, it's impossible for someone who is wrong about something they care about to be wise about something else.

Capitalism is one of those hot-button topics for many, many Americans. Decades of propaganda have had a lot of influence and it no longer matters if capitalism is actually the best system. They believe it is, and you can't get them to think about it.

I agree with just about everything you’ve said, I just don’t think capitalism is one of those topics.

“They believe it is, and you can't get them to think about it.”

Not getting someone to think about a topic is a far, far cry from not being able to utter such words for fear of violence against you.

> Technology destroys people and places. I’m rejecting it

Read all about it on your smartphone/laptop.

put a date on this old article title! [2016]


TL;DR; By "destroys people" he means "destroys their relationship with nature" and causes a sedentary lifestyle which leads to "industrial-scale afflictions of cancer, mental illness, obesity, heart disease, auto-immune disorders and food intolerances".

He should probably use technology to look up the actual causes of some of those. As well as observe the fact that lots of people are not sedentary despite their heavy use of technology.


Such comments get flagged because they don't make a substantive point (see https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html). You could add substance by, for instance, talking about some steps that could be taken to improve things.

Technology does not destroys people.

People destroy people!

Technology just sits there doing nothing without someone starts using it.

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