Why This Is Happening in the 21st Century
How our misplaced faith in technology leads us astray
The young woman was visibly shaken, and for good reason. She and her family had just fled Ukraine, narrowly escaping Russian mortar shells. “How can this be happening in 2022?” she asked a CNN reporter, incredulous. “We have Teslas and so much amazing technology.”
It is an understandable question, one that many people are asking. We live in the most technologically advanced age in human history. We can instantly transmit boatloads of data across the globe, and access virtually all of human knowledge with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. Yet the grim images streaming out of Ukraine paint a darker, antediluvian picture.
This cognitive dissonance stems from our misplaced faith in technology, and an attendant disregard for other forms of human progress.
When you hear the word “future,” what comes to mind? Chances are it’s some sort of wondrous technological utopia: flying cars, hovercraft, virtual reality. This is the problem. We conceive of the future in almost exclusively technological terms. “Advanced societies” are those with the flashiest tech; less developed ones are those still using dial-up modems.
Thus, the question posed by that young Ukrainian refugee. How can this awful war happen in a world of smartphones and electric cars? The truth is they are unrelated phenomena. Technology doesn’t diminish the likelihood of armed conflict or its lethality. If anything, it increases both.
The 20th century was history’s bloodiest, and it took place at a time of unprecedented technological breakthroughs: internal combustion engines, airplanes, computers and much more. Technology made war much more, not less, lethal. Death on an industrial scale. Yes, the century also brought advances in medical science but those were more than offset by the increased efficiency of the weapons of war.
We’ve outsourced our deepest human yearnings to smartphones and Silicon Valley hucksters. Enough. It’s time to reclaim human agency, and accountability.