Technology, Sustainability, and Human Evolution

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

I have a bit of a growing love/hate relationship with technology. I’ve been making my living online for over a decade now so I’ve become a bit of a computer geek; but I’ve also begun to recognize that all this cool stuff is a dangerous double edged sword.

One one hand all the information channels (web, phone, television, radio, etc) bring us closer together it seems to do it in cyberspace and not in person. Some people are able to continue to make offline connections but it seems bulk of our personal relationships have moved toward online interactions. I would also argue that all our faceless interactions distract us from the real people around us. It’s a common reality these days to have families disconnected at home while each surfs the web on their own computer, watching television in different rooms, text messaging and chatting with their distant disembodied friends.

But technology is also an amazing tool for accessing information and reaching out to people you would never otherwise meet. I run into this everyday while blogging and have made really great connections with people from around the globe who share my values and enjoy exchanging ideas. So while I have a lot of harsh things to say about technology and human connections I can also clearly see how it’s become a powerful tool for bettering the world.

Clearly we need to find a balance between too much and too little technology to achieve simpler lives. I will actually go as far to describe our current predicament as a critical time in human evolution where we must choice to use our cleverness to coexist with our surroundings of face extinction. My logic is simple. Since it is impossible for a something to grow at exponential rates without end inside a closed system, the growth must at some point reach the confines of the closed system. When this happens growth is stopped suddenly causing a major disruption.

Let me bring that abstract logic back to reality… I basically just said that if humans continue to grow in number and continue consuming at an increasing rates we’re going to run into serious trouble when we finally hit a point where out cleverness can’t outwit the confines of our planet.

But humans ARE clever animals. We’ve learned to manipulate our surroundings to the point where we’ve been able to virtually extend the size of our closed system… in other words through the exploitation of petrochemicals we’ve been able to produce quantities of food far beyond what the normal environment can support. Petrochemicals have also catapulted us forward in all areas of technology and we now sit on top of a vast wealth of knowledge.

The problem of course is that simply due to greed we’ve never really had a strategic plan for how we would cumulatively use all this great black stuff. Instead we’ve allowed a few people to get stinking rich off the stuff while the vast majority continues to pretend that we aren’t running out. No one can really say when we’ll run out of gas, and those who probably can probably won’t simply because it would cause too much trouble for them now (seems logical).

Some people say we’ve already reached peak, others still say peak oil production is 10 to 20 years away. I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter because the right choice is obvious. What matters is that we have a choice to use technology to better our lives while finding a way to live in balance with the all the life around us. In fact I’d argue that it’s easier to do this than living the lifestyles many of us still currently live. The hardest part is breaking free.

Simple sustainable living and technology can coexist but a delicate balance must be maintained in order for us to achieve the goal of a sustainable life. Some would say that turning our backs to technology is the only way to truly live in balance with nature but I think our specie has come to far for that now. I think we can use our cleverness and what we’ve learned so far to slow down and find a sustainable way to live.

The trick to the success of this wild dream is that each of us must take it upon ourselves to seek our own sustainable existence. I don’t think we can wait for government and I can’t imagine we can expect much more from the billionaires that really run the show than we’ve already seen from them in the past.

The only piece of the equation we each have control over it ourselves. Choose wisely and evolve.

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