Mushroom at the End of the World - Will Technology Save Humanity

Will Technology Save Humanity?

For the final part of Cultural Ecology 2017 we use anthropology to speculate on nine big questions about the future of life in the Anthropocene. Question #8: Will Technology Save Humanity?

The two readings are

  • Tim Ingold, “Society, nature and the concept of technology” (312-322) in The Perception of the Environment
  • Anna Tsing pp.27-54 in The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

That we are now asking “will technology save humanity?” is a curious reversal of traditional Western attitudes. As Ingold begins “for many centuries, Western thought has been dominated by the idea that the mission of mankind is to achieve mastery over nature” (2000:312). Technology in this case is the instrument for mastering nature. “Thus society is considered to be the mode of association of rational beings, nature the external world of things as it appears to the reasoning subject, and technology the means by which a rational understanding of that external world is turned to account for the benefit of society” (2000:312).

Asking “will technology save humanity?” is an admission that something went wrong with the planned mastery over nature. As Tsing puts it: “This is a story we need to know. Industrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes” (2015:18; see also the related content Is Capitalism the Best Economic System?).

What is technology anyway?

Even if we admit that something went wrong with the idea of technology as helping humans achieve mastery over nature, does that mean we can simply reverse course and use technology to save us? Perhaps, but it would first be better to understand what exactly we mean by technology. This is no easy task, as we saw in the previous Will Machines Replace Humans?.

Updates for “Will Technology Save Humanity?”

In an article titled Ethnography First! Promoting Sustainable Lifestyles through Locally Meaningful Solutions, Dan Podjed details how ethnographic research can guide app development toward social goals. This is perhaps an indication of how we can use technology not necessarily to “save” us per se, but to enable people to better live up to our ideals. This is also related to the idea of reuniting art and technology.