Techno-Optimist or Techno-Pessimist?


A recent book by Robert J. Gordon titled The Rise and Fall of American Growth shines a light on technological innovation and its past and future impact on growth. The premise of the book is that the innovations of the special century (1870 – 1970) cannot be replicated. As such, the author does not envision a return to growth for America (hence the title). The book is very well written, and I will touch on aspects of it in future posts. For this post, I’d like to gauge the reader’s level of optimism or pessimism.

The book focuses on the opposing views of techno-optimists and techno-pessimists. In the context of this book, the techno-optimist believes that future innovations will indeed drive a resurgence of growth – albeit at the expense of jobs. The pessimist sees no return to growth and believes our best innovations are behind us. Let’s use these definitions for the purpose of this post:

Techno-optimism – the belief that technology can continually be improved and can improve the lives of people, making the world a better place. If you are a techno-optimist, you think technology has consistently improved our lives for the better and is likely to do so in the future. In considering societal problems, you think that the solution lies in technological innovation

Techno-pessimism – a pessimist is likely to believe that modern technology has created as many problems for humanity as it has solved.  The pessimist believes that seeking more technology is likely to bring about new problems and unforeseen consequences and dangers. Given that the pessimist sees technology creating its own problems, the answer to human progress often lies in a reduction of technological dependence, rather than an expansion of it

Many are likely to fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes. Where do you fall on this spectrum? A good set of questions to consider prior to deciding are posed in this Article from several years ago. For example, how do you feel about social networking? From the article:

Have social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, alongside communication technologies like cell phones, texting, and so on, increased our capacity to communicate, or diminished it?  Have we forged better relationships as a result of these technologies, or has the quality of our relationships deteriorated?  Do such technologies stimulate or dull our intellects?  Do they tend to enhance our emotional depth, or inhibit deep emotional responses? Do they lead us to be more or less active, physically and socially?  Do they allow us to become more aware of the world around us, or less?

Please take this very quick poll and let me know where you stand.

9 thoughts on “Techno-Optimist or Techno-Pessimist?

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