Technological Pessimism vs. Human Adaptation

by on October 4, 2011 · 0 comments

I’m currently finishing up my next book. It addresses various strands of “Internet pessimism” and attempts to explain why all the gloom and doom theories we hear about the Internet’s impact on modern culture and economy are not generally warranted.  A key theme of my book is that most Internet pessimists overlook the importance of human adaptability in the face of technological change.  The amazing thing about humans is that we adapt so much better than other creatures. We learn how to use the new tools given to us and make them part of our lives and culture. The worst situations often bring out the most creative, innovative solutions. Media critic Jack Shafer has noted that “the techno-apocalypse never comes” because “cultures tend to assimilate and normalize new technology in ways the fretful never anticipate.”

In a cultural sense, humans have again and again adapted to technological change despite the radical disruptions to their lives, mores, manners, and methods of learning. As Aleks Krotoski recently points out in her new Guardian essay, “How the Internet Has Changed Our Concept of What Home Is”:

We are adaptable creatures and will work within the confines of our existing homes to integrate this new creature into our lives. We have already made the web part of our domestic ecologies and we continually imbue it with a sense of place. Perhaps its malleability is why it has been so successful and why we are willing to bring this interruptive technology into our most intimate worlds.

Human adaption also works magic in an economic sense. Entrepreneurs are constantly developing disruptive technologies that transform markets and expand opportunities. Innovators respond to incentives, including short-term spells of excessive “market power.” [More on that in my latest Forbes column, "No One Owns a Techno Crystal Ball."]

Techno-pessimism and technopanics are born from irrational fears and a failure to appreciate that humans have, many times before, faced and conquered the technological unknown. Simply put, pessimists have very little faith in human ingenuity and resiliency.

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