Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The power of technology in resolving our social and environmental issues
Technology is just a tool; its impact depends on how it’s wielded. If tool after fancy tool doesn’t build a better house, maybe we should invest more in the carpenter.
While I can see the numerous benefits technology has in mitigating the world’s social and environmental issues, I agree with Toyama in his philosophy that technology cannot resolve these problems on its own. The video below is a talk by Toyama about his views.
One benefit of technology is its ability to drastically increase energy efficiency. Smart Meters, for instance, record and provide owners with information on their electricity consumption, which encourages them to think about how they use electricity and make changes to reduce their usage. However, Smart Meters are not smart enough to educate people about the negative effects of voracious energy consumption or to instil the importance of energy conservation into our culture. Technology can only assist us in making changes we already intend on making. So, methods of encouraging consumers to save more energy need to go beyond just providing them with technology.
Technology also has numerous benefits for social issues. For example, putting computers in classrooms in developing countries can have positive effects on education. Research shows that computers can elevate the quality of education by helping students actively explore concepts, rather than being passive recipients of information. Computers help teachers who are in fairly isolated areas to receive advice from experts around the world and download teaching and learning materials that are available on the internet. However, implementing even the best-designed educational technology in developing countries will not have great educational impacts in failing schools. For instance, it will not prevent teacher or student absenteeism. Also, research found that PCs that substitute for teachers are actually destructive, but PCs that supplement teacher-led instruction are beneficial. Another issue is that technologies tend to require new skills and if people are illiterate or lack the skills to use advanced technologies, the technologies will do nothing to help developing countries grow. Thus, technology cannot substitute human capacity; it can only assist us in our actions. Investment in human capital is necessary for us to effectively make use of these advanced technologies.
So how can we best capitalize on technological benefits when addressing social and environmental issues? As suggested by Toyama, one way to effectively use technology is to seek out and understand institutions that already yield positive outcomes, and then design technologies that enhance their positive effects. Depending on the objective, we can come up with other ways to effectively use technology. But whatever our strategy is, we should keep in mind that we cannot exclusively rely on technology as a solution to our problems.
GlassFrog Blogger, Sherisse