Tony Huffman ’14 weighs the benefits of technology
February 9, 2012 By Tony Huffman ’14
advancement in this op-ed, which was recently published by the
Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.
Tony Huffman ’14 wrote this Opinions article for Centre’s student newspaper, The Cento, last year. It was recently published on the front page of the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper's Opinions section, and can also be found online here.
In an age where everyone is constantly updating their locations via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets through sleek, elegant devices, one cannot help but question whether our craving for new technological gizmos has any adverse effects on the world around us. Of course, technology has simplified our lives in unimaginable ways through advancements in communication channels, and even more importantly, it has allowed for improvements in modern medicine and research. However, there is a negative side to technological innovation that we try to ignore because it is simply more convenient not to think about. Technology comes to our fingertips at an environmental and ethical expense. Our push for the production of electronic devices negatively impacts sustainability and the wellbeing of numerous populations across the globe. Therefore, we must find a balance in how much we depend on technology.
For instance, in recent years there has been a large push for going digital in order to save trees. Schools, corporations, government agencies and hospitals have been converting their paper files to electronic files that are stored on hard drives, flash drives and even the Internet. On the face, this idea seems good — after all, getting rid of bulky, obsolete filing systems not only helps the environment, but makes searching for files less time consuming and more efficient. However, is this conversion truly beneficial for the environment? At first, one would posit that we are saving trees by converting from paper to digital formats — but what about sustainability? In the short run, it may seem environmentally friendly, but paper is a renewable resource, whereas the components of computers are not. The process of producing, distributing and utilizing paper is rather simplistic compared to that of computers, and recycling paper is easy and provides sustainability. Most importantly, paper production does not involve a conflict of moral issues, whereas, the production of computers does.
In addition to raising concerns over non-renewability, the push for more and more technology brings up the issue of morality. At what cost are we able to have our iPhones, our Kindles and our MacBooks? The means through which we are able to enjoy our marvelous technological gadgets comes at the expense of others who live well below the poverty line in countries around the globe. One example of how our desire for the latest and greatest devices has caused turmoil in other parts of the globe was the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the high-tech boom of the late 1990s. The African nation, with the world’s fourth largest supply of coltan reserves, saw violence surge because of Rwandan troops crossing the border to mine and sell this gritty, black compound. But what is coltan and why is it so valuable? Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, is one of the raw materials used to manufacture capacitors. Capacitors, tiny components that regulate the flow of current on circuit boards, are used in all electronics, such as cell phones, laptops and pagers. The high-tech industry’s soaring demand for coltan triggered a temporary global supply shortage in 2000 and caused prices to surge, leading to warring factions in the DRC over the mining of coltan. In 2001, prices crashed due to slumping cell phone sales and led to a decrease in demand, but the violence still continued. Clearly, we influence markets and we influence the lives of others whether we realize it or not.
Without question, we live in a globalized society where we are intricately connected with millions of other humans. This connectivity allows people, markets and governments to interact as never before. We are constantly trying to shorten the amount of time it takes to communicate with one another across the globe, but isn’t it time we stopped to think about how our consistent push for technological innovation affects the environment and more importantly the lives of individuals involved in the production of those devices? Am I proposing that we completely abandon our gadgets? No. Let me be clear: I’m simply saying that we need a balance in how much we rely upon technology in our daily lives. We need to begin looking at the big picture, and what I mean by that is looking at things in the long term and on a large scale. We need to start making choices that are good for the environment, choices that support sustainability. It is time we took responsibility for our actions and became aware that our demand for new innovations in technology has effects on the world around us.
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