Essay: Why we need more technology, not less

A pig farm, a highway – there really are things that people, for understandable reasons, don’t want to have in the immediate vicinity. The pigs stink terribly, and there are exhaust fumes and noise on the freeway. On the other hand, there is the love of the neck steak, the bratwurst, the joy of driving, and traffic routes must also exist. So pig farms are built and highways.

But there are a few other things you need too. Lines, for example, that bring the wind power from the offshore plants to the south, where the Audis, BMWs, Daimlers and many others need it. A much better developed mobile Internet with 5G, more fiber optic lines, would be needed so that people, especially in rural areas, are not left behind. We need an administration that works with efficient software and offers as many services as possible easily and conveniently online. There is a need for schools that are digitally well equipped, along with teachers who can and want to use digital tools. Hospitals that use digital technologies to relieve staff. Need, need, need – unfortunately the list is long. But it turns out that in Germany it is obviously easier to build motorways and pigsties than to make the fourth largest industrial nation in the world fit for the future.

The carousel called capitalism

But do we even have to? Isn’t all this digitization just a means of accelerating the merry-go-round called capitalism on which we are sitting – until one day it painfully throws us off? You have to slow down, so you often hear, back, well not necessarily as a hunter-gatherer in the savannah, but to a less resource-guzzling way of life. In principle, there is nothing wrong with that. But the approach of rejecting technology, especially new ones, per se is wrong.

But this attitude is often encountered. However, most of them are so inconsistent that they prefer to be examined with a tomograph if they have a head injury. Or maybe you are a bit happy that dentists now have state-of-the-art equipment that makes treatment far less difficult than it was decades or even centuries ago. Some things that affect you specifically don’t seem so bad anymore. On the other hand, it is also clear that buying a new smartphone every two years or even every year, using the stand-by function of many devices just so that you can switch them on by remote control – all this and much more is unnecessary, it should and can easily avoided.

Diffuse fear of the new

However, many claim to define what is reasonable and desirable and what is not. Unfortunately, often without really knowing the facts. For example, the cloud is demonized, i.e. the concentration of computing power in large data centers. However, the professional providers can process data much more efficiently than the operators of small company servers. So it makes perfect sense to use this technology.

But there is often also a vague fear of the new. It leads to initially rejecting innovations internally. If you try them once, this rejection makes the digital systems seem complicated. Every hurdle, no matter how small, leads to further rejection, according to the motto “I knew it straight away”.

The opponents of digitization don’t come up with anything constructive. It would be extremely important to help shape this development. Since it is happening at such a rapid pace around the world, there are only two options: either you continue to demonize it, you cling to the traditional, or you do your best to shape digitization. Sooner or later those who refuse will have to realize that development can also take place without them – and that would be a shame, because a critical spirit is definitely good.

There have been examples of this for a long time: the fact that Internet searches, at least in the western world, are almost monopolized by one company, Google, is also because in Europe in the 1990s there was no awareness of which possibilities the internet could offer. Other platforms such as Facebook/Meta were not created in Europe either, but in the States. There was a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in Europe, of venture capital, but not of regulation that made founding more difficult. Things have gotten better in the meantime, but it’s still far easier to raise money for a good idea in Silicon Valley than in Europe.

The lead that these platforms have achieved is unassailable, especially since the practice, which has so far been more similar to the behavior in the Wild West, also allows them to oust or absorb possible competitors and thus grow into giant corporations that are hardly manageable.

So what remains?

A whole lot. One could easily get the impression that digitization has long since taken hold of all areas of life. But a lot of things are still in the early stages and can therefore still be changed. Technologies such as artificial intelligence are already being used, but their true potential is far from being exhausted. Others, such as quantum computers, are now also found outside of research laboratories, but it is not yet clear which of a few possible methods of using the quantum properties of certain particles for computing will prevail.

What both technologies have in common is that their potential is almost unforeseeable. Applications often only arise when a technology has reached a certain level of maturity. Great potential, but of course that also means: risk of misuse. It must therefore be a matter of using new technologies for the benefit of people. And that also means for the good of the environment, because continuing to destroy it senselessly ultimately robs people of their livelihoods.

Life contains risks, always

But anyone who rejects everything new because it also harbors dangers misunderstands a few things: after all, life is always fraught with risks. And those who attack new technologies in a ludicrous manner do not just deprive themselves of the opportunity to participate in their development. Societies that refuse are not only left behind and have to deal with the new as others set it in front of them. No technology is without risks and side effects. Therefore, a trade-off is always necessary. With nuclear power, for example, one has to ask oneself whether it is justified to leave behind hundreds of thousands of years of radiant waste.

With other technologies such as 5G mobile communications, on the other hand, the dangers are often greatly overestimated. Of course, it is not advisable to stand directly in front of a transmitter on the roof. But under normal conditions, the danger emanates much more from the smartphone than from the transmitter. However, the opportunities opened up by high-speed data transmission are enormous, for example in the networking of production facilities, to name just one example.

Keep in touch

Germany is actually a country of engineers. But in the world as it is today and will be much more in the future, it is no longer enough to build good machines. This can be observed well in the car industry. The manufacturers rightly live off the good reputation they have built up over many decades. But they have to make an effort in order not to lose touch with digitization. Because modern cars are, so to speak, computers on wheels, and the more demands increase to drive as autonomously as possible, the more it is digital technology that determines their value.

Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of technology. Yes, it should serve the people and not further destroy the world. However, since one can assume that people will continue to be happy to have their teeth straightened with modern equipment and, if necessary, to lie down in the tomograph tube, since very few want to go back up into the trees, it will not work without modern technology. And those who often reject it so vehemently and instinctively have to say specifically what exactly they mean when they reject digitization.

You have to be realistic here too, but without making sacrifices it is not possible, because the earth does not provide as many resources as the industrialized countries in particular are currently using. Rejecting new things across the board doesn’t help at all. Why not be curious, try things out? And if it doesn’t work, change it or leave it alone? One thing must always be in the foreground: How does a technology – in its entirety – affect the environment? Does it do more good than harm? Or is their benefit so great that one can or even has to accept the damage? Then the damage done would have to be compensated elsewhere.

So the motto must be: Dare to try new technology, but not for its own sake, but to do what the successful people from the electronics valley in California like to promise, but rarely keep: make the world a little better make. What nobody needs anymore is technology that is manufactured in an environmentally harmful way and then thrown away again after a short period of use. Or technologies such as those of so-called social networks, which promise to promote communication but only collect data for advertising and thereby promote the division of society.

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