Technology is not THE Answer

There was a point in Western history in which the nascent blooming technology of the 20th century was THE answer to all of our emerging problems and complications associated with an economy and industrial infrastructure that was rapidly expanding. We quickly learned to rely on technologies such as automobiles, artificial lighting, automated machinery and assembly line production. Today, the only thing that has changed is the flavor of technology; we have smartphones to watch our stocks and tell us what the weather is going to be like for the day, advanced computer algorithms to analyze and predict consumer buying trends, and of course there is always “an app for that”. But in an age in which our growing population is putting pressures on our environment and systems, can we rely on the next new thing to bail us out of impending troubles? As our class looked at psychometric charts and through the readings it became clear to me that we have largely lost sight of an incredible potential for positive change: ourselves.

heating graphIn a sense, compared to the rest of the animal kingdom humans are unremarkable creatures . We are like any other organism in that we have the capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions. However, of recent we have become increasingly complacent to be totally dependent on technology to function in the modern world. One of the best examples of this that came up in class is our ability to change external thermal conditions. We hyper-regulate our external conditions, creating an artificial state conducive to consistent, perfect homeostasis. This is especially true of developed nations in which well lit,  air conditioned buildings are the norm. This has not always been the case as you can see from the graph to the left which outlines the past 2000 years of heating and cooling technologies.

graphThe point I’m trying to make is that humans have existed for thousands of years depending on our natural bio-mechanisms to keep ourselves alive in a constantly changing thermal environment. To the right is a psychometric graph with a bounded box outlining our “comfort zone” relative to humidity and temperature. In the past half century this box has been getting smaller and smaller. I challenge that rather than changing our external environment we can change ourselves and our acceptable definition of “comfort” to displace some of the negative consequences of keeping our buildings within such a small window. We can suppress our urge to automatically start looking for some expensive new application of technology to make heating and cooling more efficient for the alternative of a sweater. Another example of human behavior change which could trump any technology can be found every time you use the restroom. It’s common practice to wash one’s hands after using the facility and proceed to either dry your hands on paper towels or use an electric hand dryer. In the US, the average person consumes about 749 pounds of paper every year, adding up to 187 billion pounds for the entire population. (Martin) One way we could make a dent in this waste would be to forego these two “technologies” altogether and simply use our trousers. A simple change in our behavior could cut out thousands of tons of unnecessary waste from our landfills from the paper towels, packaging of new hand dryers and paper towels and the hand dryers and dispensers themselves when they have come to the end of their lifespan and ultimately get thrown away. The simple solution is often the best.

In conclusion, we need to think of technology is not an ends but rather a means. What needs to happen is not an external change to technology but rather a change in the way we, as human, behave and expect. As David F. Nobel stated in the Lechner reading, “There are no technological promises, only human ones, and social progress must not be reduced to, or confused with, mere technological progress.” In the end technology is only as useful and efficient as the complete human system it is inserted within. Our cultural habit to look to technology as our first as our only solution to a problem as related in the Moe reading as the “Machine Mentality” should be shifted to a more  practical human mentality. Technology, therefore, should be thought of as AN answer rather than THE answer. 

Sources:

Lechner, Norbert. Heating, Cooling, Lighting : Design Methods for Architects. New York: Wiley, 1991.

Martin, Sam. “Paper Chase.” Ecology. 9 Oct. 2013. Web. http://www.ecology.com/2011/09/10/paper-chase/

Moe, Kiel. Thermally Active Surfaces In Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

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