Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Does our Ultra-Modern Technology Create a Better World?

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, June 10 / 19

Zack Gross

There is no doubt that, for those of us who are part of the middle or upper classes in the wealthier parts of our world, modern technology seems to be the gift that keeps on giving.  But for those who are not as privileged, technology is not yet available or hasn’t proven to be the solution expected.  Indeed, for many, modern technology has brought a range of new problems to deal with.

Looking back to my childhood, I remember the last days of ice being delivered to people’s “iceboxes” at home (what passed as fridges at the time), and my mother washing clothes with more primitive technology than we have now, and hanging clothes to dry in the basement in winter and in the yard in summer. 

In those days, in the 1950s, there were still a few horse-drawn wagons in use, vying with street cars and other vehicles for space on Winnipeg streets.  Indeed, modern conveniences such as household appliances, television and even airplanes got a big boost once the Second World War ended in 1945 as technology was focused on the home and civilian population rather than on the war effort.

Fast forward to today.  I was speaking at a professional development event for teachers not too long ago, and one of their number came up to chat afterwards.  He said:  Now that we have advanced technology, everyone on the planet can benefit and problems like poverty and disease will disappear.  He forgot to say, or didn’t think that:  We also need the will to use these advancements in the proper way.

There is much in the way of very basic technology that is missing in many poor areas of our world, both overseas and in Canada.  All of us have heard of the indigenous communities here with “boil water” regulations, and of the indigenous community in northwestern Ontario that supplies Winnipeg with its water but hasn’t had a viable road system. 

In East Africa, where many Brandon area residents are connected with development assistance projects through local organizations, not having private, secure, sanitary indoor washrooms prevents girls from attending school.  As well, in many rural and remote communities, basic infrastructure such as a good road or dependable electricity are very new or still to be provided.  Lack of girls education and the lack of infrastructure has a profound effect on a community’s economy.

The research, development and commercial distribution of medicines to deal with health concerns in our world are dominated by very large companies, what is knows as “Big Pharma
.”  These companies control prices and work to prevent cheaper generic pharmaceuticals from entering the market, narrowing the options for poorer consumers, or making access impossible.  Indeed, the vast majority of corporate spending, research tells us, goes into drugs for the rich, for instance for sexual enhancement, and not into ending the scourges of malaria or tuberculosis.

Thus, even when technology might be the answer, accessibility is the barrier.  “Technology for All” is an idea whose time seems not to have arrived!  This is especially true when examples of progress in the areas mentioned above are thanks to charitable organizations and not just as part of our everyday expectations of, and efforts toward, a peaceful and prosperous world through those with power in our world -  corporations and governments.

The more direct downside of technology would include the growth in number and sophistication of military weaponry.  With what seems to be a return in recent years to a Cold War footing, fear of nuclear war is again on the rise.  As well, on a civil basis, repression of populations has become everyday news for many countries around the world and on all continents.  It is discouraging to know that governments purchase modern, sophisticated arms for mass internal use.

Another downside to technology is the wonderful, life-dominating arena of internet, social media and computer games.  What was seen very positively as a boon to communication, education and cultural sharing now has its dark side with multiple sites being used for hate speech, bullying and “fake news”.  In some ways, this has become an addiction, a distraction and a source of heightening social tension.  The school system is on the front lines of sorting out how to deal with a new generation of youth whose ways of interacting and learning have been forever changed.

Technology will always lead to positive developments for humanity while also claiming its victims.  A car will get you quickly to where you want to go, but will also run someone down.  It will power economic growth while polluting the planet.  For us, the question is how do we harness technology so that it contributes much more positive than negative.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of The Marquis Project and former Coordinator for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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