Under what conditions does technological stagnation occur? As we battle various challenges what can history teach us about who poses a threat to progress?
When does technological stagnation begin? Is it the day after new technology is created? I believe it to be defined by the point at which every problem begins to look more and more like a nail to our proverbial hammer. Unfortunately this definition requires a keen intuition about when something is “new technology”, as the press will report it, and when it is a fossil being used to butcher your new phone, computer, etc. This intuition can be cultivated by your own area of expertise, whatever that may be, and applied to the broader picture. This process will not allow you to identify every problem in the world, but with everyone in the world using this process, we may just reach that goal every now and then. New problems will always arise, do not let it hinder your enthusiasm for the future; it’s coming whether you’re a part of it or not, that I promise.
When someone has come up with new technological inventions that have the potential to revolutionize the world, are they celebrated or ostracized? We would hope (those of us with a good heart and people we care about) that the answer would be celebrated, for furthering the human race and raising the tide of consciousness. The alternative is a dark and dreary state of affairs that leaves those dwelling on it lost ‘to the bottle’. The answer ‘celebrated’ however is not the truth, and I’ll ask you to take two steps back from ‘your bottle’ before I continue.
The reality of the situation can be represented (if not in full at least in principle) by the case of the nearly forgotten Nikola Tesla. A young, well educated, Austria born man who revolutionized the world in ways never thought possible through innovations on the D/C form of electricity. When his invention, the alternating current (A/C) was presented by the request of his then boss (Thomas Edison), he was thrown under the bus. Not for having no answer to Edison’s problem, but for having the wrong one. Although we live in an age where it is easier to get the word out then in Tesla’s day, I believe his saving grace was living in a time when technological surveillance had not sufficiently advanced for those with the means (and intention) to be able to keep tabs on him. Through all the slander, through all the lies, the truth won that day (1893 Chicago world fair), and the White City shone as it was meant to. This is how our current world became powered by electricity without unimaginable costs and unnecessary dangers, and I hope it won’t be the last in a line of similar revolutions to come.
Now for the bad news, and another two steps from your bottle wouldn’t hurt. As previously stated the world is very different now, and anyone (any group of ‘ones’) can keep very vigilant tabs on you if they so wished. If they were so inclined they could watch your very movements with that convenient GPS tracker you carry with you everywhere, they could hear every word, they could wait until you did something they didn’t want, they could swoop in like the authority figure you never even knew existed, and either take what you’ve done or take you instead. This is not a matter of paranoia; this is a matter of fact.
Why? Is the question you should be asking after that rabbit hole into the darker side of life. Why would someone (a person, just like me) actively try to shut down new thoughts, try to stagnate new innovations, try to slow our technological evolution? The answer I offer is not the full story, it is the parts I know of. I believe it to be the result of two main causes (The former leading to the other), currency (and all it’s benefits and curses), and complacency. The problem isn’t that people don’t like innovation and change, far from it. The problem is also not the actual men/women who went and carved their name in stone in human history; founders of oil companies, coal companies, natural gas and so on. The problem is also not that these people went out and made a success of themselves on a technology that was new at the time. We need these technologies to be popularised so we can take a look at them and assess the pros/cons list of what the technology offers. The founders do not fear change, in their time and place they had embraced it heart and soul.
The problem arises when the founder dies, and the new management takes over. Now whether these people have earned their way to running the company is inconsequential, what matters is that they were not the ones who sprung on a new trend and so think themselves incapable of doing so. So where are we in our story? The founders are dead, new management is in, and they have stockholders to answer to; who (virtually) hold the job this person worked their life thus far to achieve, in their hands. It’s not a pretty picture; and what follows? Here is where we get into a real perversion of the human spirit. Propaganda will be spewed to slander the competition (new tech included), and if necessary (from a very visceral threat) real cruelty can result. Governments are bribed, in pursuit of short term gains they comply. The name of the game becomes an ‘ends justify the means’ mentality directed towards maintaining the power over the market that the founder was clever enough to identify. This is how technological stagnation becomes endemic, and progress stifled.
Now for the good news. Technological ability the keep tabs on everyone is very useful for those with malicious intent, it is also very useful for the rest of us. There is no stopping the forward motion of time and technology; a ‘bottleneck’ is where we are now. We can keep in touch faster and across almost every continental, country, and state borderline instantly. This is how the scale has tipped in our favor, through the banality of ‘social media’. We are not all physicists, biologists, chemists, or engineers; but we are all very capable of identifying those who are in these areas and are making meaningful strides in the right direction. The powerful can not turn on the many, for the many is where their power is derived. The complacency of someone unable to adapt is not the fault of the masses, and it should be looked at (from us) with the same cold stare mother nature gives you the day you die.
I have more faith in people than most, I think that everyone with truth running to their core and an ear for what is and isn’t propaganda can do what founders have done in the past. We can and will change the world; the question isn’t whether it’s going to happen very fast or very slow, the question is whether it’s going to happen very fast in the future, or very fast right now.