Imagine we lived in a world that had never seen, heard of, or experience alcohol. Ever. Then imagine that something or someone enters the picture and introduces this world to alcohol.
People slowly begin to try it, and they love it. It tastes great. It makes people feel good. It makes parties more fun.
As humanity learns how to make it, a huge industry is created. People find jobs. Economies grow. Everyone’s happy.
With all this success, alcohol is viewed as the new wonder substance. It seems to make everything better. The success stories are all over the news and in every business magazine. Alcohol is the future.
Since everything is going so well, humanity starts to use alcohol for EVERYTHING. To power cars, as a cleaning agent, to help school children with ADD, as a laxative, to help babies sleep – everything. The success stories continue.
As the world economy becomes more dependent on the growing alcohol industry, stockholders push for more growth. This means finding new uses for alcohol. Pregnant women are told to drink it as a prenatal supplement. Doctors use it to treat heart attacks and cancer.
At this point, serious problems start coming to the surface. Babies start being born with deformities. Alcoholism amongst 3rd graders becomes a growing problem. Forty percent of the drivers on the road are drunk, so traffic fatalities go through the roof.
People start to protest. Some people conclude that alcohol is evil and we should eliminate it altogether. Other people say it’s a fundamental part of life and a pillar of the economy. To eliminate it would be insane. In fact, we haven’t even touched the surface of what alcohol can do.
In the story above, there’s nothing wrong with alcohol. It IS a great social lubricant. It is part of the economy. And it does have many other important uses.
But alcohol SHOULD NOT be given to children or pregnant mothers. Or to people who are, or will be driving. That is the WRONG way to use alcohol.
With the introduction of alcohol to this imaginary world, the people learned that for some things alcohol, when used correctly, is great.
The people also needed to learn that there are some circumstances where alcohol should NEVER be used. It hurts not only the user, but the people around him or her.
At this point, I would argue that our society is still in the first part of the previous story. The prevailing attitude is – “more technology is always better”, and it should be used everywhere, and for everything. We know all the upsides associated with new technologies, and the potential downsides are either not investigated or dismissed outright. The primary barometer of whether something is a good or bad use of technology is it’s financial success. If a new device or service is profitable or has a lot of users, then it is deemed an innovation, irrespective of its larger impact on society.
So – at what point will we reach the second part of the story?
In what areas should technology NOT be used?
How should we judge whether a new technology is truly an innovation or not?
Please share your thoughts in the comments…