A survey done by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine this past February asked Americans if they were optimistic about the future when it comes to technology. There was a pretty strong gender divide, with 61% of men feeling that technological changes will lead to a future in which most people’s lives are better. Only 51% of women agreed with that. When income was factored in, nearly 80% of men making more than $75,000 per year were optimistic, though women’s views didn’t change much with the higher income. The researchers speculate that men may be more likely to benefit from the availability of jobs in the tech sector. Or is there more to it than that?
Maybe guys are picturing hover cars, ubiquitous video screens showing sports events 24/7, and ever more powerful remote controls, while women don’t find these things a turn-on and would be unimpressed with a world of cybernetic personal assistants that double as love-bots. Another survey question found that 59% of women viewed wearable computers as a negative development. Guys were evenly split. Yet both men and women generally felt that the internet has been a good thing for themselves personally, and for society. Perhaps approval hinges on the question of how pervasive and invasive the technology is. An internet that we can call upon whenever we want is great, but being hooked up to it every moment of the day? Not so much. When it comes to information technology, constantly available can also mean constantly demanding. Seventy percent of both men and women said they would not be interested in computer brain implants, even if it improved their memory function. But then, I have to think that people of thirty years ago probably wouldn’t have welcomed the idea of being slaves to their phones either, alerted every time one of their friends enjoys a cat video or posts a new selfie. It’s like a frog in slowly-heated water: with gradual exposure we don’t see the danger until we’re hooked (or cooked!) I expect most future tech developments will make their mark on society almost subversively, marketed as the next must-have consumer purchase.
Most people would probably expect SF fans to be the most optimistic about technology, yet a very great deal of SF paints a dark picture of the future. We’re fascinated with tech, but it’s often a morbid fascination. Would you really want to live in a cyberpunk world? Or do you just get a big kick out of exploring the creepy possibilities?
The truth, of course, is that technology giveth and technology taketh away. Some things become better, some worse. I personally feel that if we can prevent our society from being totally consumed by consumerism (very much I doubt at the moment) we’ll be in a far better position to keep a reign on technology and reap its benefits without selling the farm. We’ll also need to resist the herd mentality, reassert our individuality and our privacy, and constantly be on the lookout for the tech equivalent of magic beans that lead us blithely to a place where giants are eagerly waiting to gobble us up. When a new development opens a new door, let’s constantly be asking if we actually want to go there.
Then our high tech future can truly be a place to be optimistic about.