The phone in your pocket – or in your hand – lets you record video, edit it, and share it with everyone. With your phone you can tour cities, buy a car, track your vital signs and do many other things. And then?
Each of these activities used to demand learning new skills and acquiring the necessary resources to do them. Make a movie? First, buy a video camera and assistive technologies (lights, editing equipment, etc.). Second, learn how to use them and hire people. Third, record the movie. Fourth, develop and edit the film. Fifth, make copies and distribute them.
Now all those things are solved by technology. We no longer need to learn the intrinsic details when the programmers have already taken care of most of the task. But filmmakers are now freer to focus on their craft, and it’s easier than ever to be a filmmaker. Historically, technology has made us individually dumber and individually smarter – and collectively smarter. Technology has allowed us to do more with little understanding of what we do, and it has increased our dependence on others.
These trends are not recent, but part of the history of technology since the first humans began to work. In recent decades, three major changes have sped up the process, beginning with the rapid pace of humans specializing in particular abilities. In addition, we outsource more skills to technological tools, such as the application to record a movie on the phone, saving us the challenge of learning large amounts of technical knowledge.
Many more people have access to technology than in the past, allowing them to use tools much easier.
Specialization allows us to be very good at some activities, but that investment in learning – for example, how to be an ER nurse or how to be a programmer – comes at the expense of other skills of how to grow your own food or how to build. your own refuge.
As Adam Smith noted, “Specialization enables people to be more efficient and productive in one set of tasks, but at the cost of increased reliance on others for additional needs. In theory, everyone benefits”. In short, for example, you may be specialized in programming, but not surgical practice.
Specialization has moral and pragmatic consequences. Skilled workers are more likely to get a job and be better paid than their “unskilled” opponents.
CREATING MACHINES FOR THE REST OF US
Incorporating human skills into a machine – called “black boxes” because it performs the operation invisibly to the user – allows more people, for example, to take their blood pressure without investing time, resources and effort in learning the skills previously needed to use a pressure gauge. Putting expertise in machines lowers the barriers to entry to do something because people don’t need to know as much. For example, learning to drive a manual car versus one with an automatic transmission.
The mass production of technologies allows their widespread use. Smartphones and automatic blood pressure monitors would be much less effective if only thousands rather than millions of people used them. On the other hand, and sadly, producing millions of AK-47 automatic rifles means that individuals can kill more people more easily compared to primitive weapons like knives.
OVER-RELIANCE ON TECHNOLOGY IS DANGEROUS
A major disadvantage of increasing dependence on technology is the increased consequences if those technologies were to disappear.