Is Socioeconomic Inequality a Practical Concern?

robtslav

We have defined technology as many things, perhaps most generally as: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Is socioeconomic inequality a practical purpose?  If so, why in fact have generations of our brightest engineers failed so marvelously to eliminate the scourge of social injustice and to vanquish racial prejudice?

How one answers this question depends on how one defines technology and its purpose but also how one defines the evolution of human history. If human history is perceived as linear and progressive, as technologists often assume, it is natural to understand the role of technology as factoring into greater advancement of human ideals.  However, if one sees change over time as erratic, irrational, and intractable, one would see technology much more as an expression of human angst than a vehicle of humanity’s salvation.

Regardless of one’s view, technologists have often failed to account for how technology can equally be a force that generates disparate outcomes and reifies existing social hierarchies.  It appears that for every disruptive technology, there are three hegemonic innovations.  Humankind is much more a captive of convention than an engine of revolution.

These tendencies beg the question of whether technology is universally practical at all.  The uses to which the powerful employ innovation are often contrary to the most practical and rudimentary of human needs.  Technological innovation defines practical by vicariously transforming the demands of the powerful to overshadow the longings of the weak.  In education and application, technology often urges us to redefine not only what is possible but also what is meaningful.

 

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