The Technology Trap

Have you heard the term “technology trap?” I have been drafting an essay on the all-electric vehicle (EV), and one argument I make is that the EV is a technology trap, by which I mean that due to human behavior we are prone to rely on modern technology and future technology to solve the problems that we are creating and experiencing today, which allows us to avoid the need to change attitudes, ethics, and behavior.

I wanted to tighten up my definition of technology trap and so today I googled the term. I was surprised to learn that either I have misunderstood the term, or that there are several competing definitions. The first several google pages led me to links that offered a definition of technology trap similar to this one provided by Culture Change:

In the natural world, Darwinian natural selection would weed out tendencies for an organism to be destructive of itself and its habitat. But the technological way of life has uncoupled human behavior from natural selection pressures. The harms that result when we use destructive technologies are dispersed in space and time and are difficult to detect. The air pollution and petroleum depletion caused by driving a car don’t immediately feed back to the driver and make her question her use of her car, just as a drink from a plastic bottle of spring water flown in daily from the South Pacific gives no clues about the many harms caused by the bottled water industry. Our present-focused brains just don’t get the harmful consequences of our technological activities.

I found several similar descriptions of the technology trap, by which the author(s) mean that modern technology can be harmful, particularly when combined with human traits such as error, greed, and malevolence, and yet we tend to blindly adopt technology without the forethought or awareness of the dangers it may pose. These definions do not represent what I think of when I use the term technology trap.

Interestingly, I found the following definition on a WordPress blog called The Way Things Break:

The technology trap is, as I like to put it: “Delay, delay, delay. Why? Because technology, technology, technology.” It is the push- be it cynically, to undermine meaningful action in the present for political and industry profit, or well-intentioned, wishful thinking- to do little or nothing in the short term to mitigate climate change and hope for technological salvation in the future.

Now, this writer hits it exactly when he (or she, I couldn’t locate an author description) describes a technology trap as ‘technological salvation’. Perfect.

The technology trap is ever present in environmental issues. From our belief that a new form of solar/wind/geothermal technology is right around the corner that will eliminate the need for coal and end global climate change, or that we will create the perfect long-life, low-impact EV battery that will end our reliance on oil, the belief persists that if we just wait long enough and invest heavily enough, we can avoid making any uncomfortable or difficult decisions about how we live today. Given the alternative, I am happy to live in a society where we are so optimistic, forward looking, innovative and hopeful. These are traits for long-term survival, and I would not change them. But as a society we need to recognize this trait and understand that we have a strong tendency to fall into the technology trap.


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