I have been writing this

by francine Hardaway on November 14, 2002

I have been writing this column for almost four years. In that time, the technology world has been turned on its ear twice, first by a huge influx of dumb money that made many unassuming engineers rich, and then by a huge sucking sound that made many presumably smart people poor.

If you are a recent recipient of this weekly e-zine, you probably don’t know why you’re getting it. (That might be true even if you have been getting it for years!) This journal is a vehicle through which, from the vantage point of human being, I express my perceptions about how technology and humanity intersect. It is meant to encourage thought, response, and sometimes action.

But it’s only my opinion, gleaned from my own reading and experience. I started it for clients and family, and it has just grown.

When I started it, hardware and software were fairly arcane subjects and most of my friends didn’t discuss them in public. The Internet was something for people in universities. As an early adopter, I thought I could help spread the gospel of how technology improves the world.

This week, after the election, I felt it was time to take a step back and look at the way the world has changed since I started proselytizing on behalf of technology. I’m beginning to question whether “improved” is a world I can apply to the world today as opposed to that of four years ago.

Now, as I listen to CNBC every morning, I hear commentators debating about whether we will ever see another bull market like the one we had in the late ’90s. At the same time, I hear that Osama bin Laden is alive and celebrating the recent terrorist attacks in Bali, Russia, Israel, etc. Next, I hear that we can expect another terrorist attack on the heels of this latest tape.

What’s the biggest change? Not the pervasive influence of the semiconductor in everyday life. Not the ability to keep in touch over the Internet with people from distant countries and distant times (yes, Dan and Susan, my high school buddies, I mean you).
Not the ability to bombard anthrax molecules with proteins to discover cures for a disease only cows used to get.

No. The biggest change is fear. People today are living in a pervasive climate of fear.

Last weekend, I saw “Bowling for Columbine,” a movie about America’s complex relationship to guns. Among the many things I liked about that movie was the point Michael Moore made about the difference between Americans and Canadians. Moore points out that Americans live in fear, which causes them to use their firearms against each other rather than against real enemies, or for killing food. On the other hand, Canadians have just as many guns per capita as Americans, but very few homicides per year.

This is not the major theme of the movie, but it’s something that attracted me. It makes the issue of gun control much more complex. American activists for gun control have long been saying that we have to limit the number of guns sold, more carefully screen the people who possess them, or remove our right to bear arms altogether in order to prevent incidents like the Columbine High School massacre.

But in Canada, there are something like ten million households with seven million guns. And we have more homicides with guns in Tampa, Florida annually than they do in the entire country of Canada.

Moore believes the reason we are using guns on each other is fear, a fear Canadians (who don’t lock their doors) don’t have. He believes this fear is fostered by the media, which reports in the “if it bleeds, it leads” tradition.

I’ll go further than Moore. I believe our government also fosters fear by constantly discussing Saddam Hussein and his fondness for “weaponsofmassdestruction” (this is one word on TV), Al Qaeda and its plans for the future, or the changing supply of smallpox vaccine at NIH. President Bush, whether you agree with him or not, is marketing to Americans through fear.

Fear and greed are known to be great motivators. The stock market bubble was motivated by greed. The current environment for technology is motivated by fear.

Technology is a facilitator, not a thing in itself. Somehow, we have taken all the technological advances in recent years –the Internet, communications satellites, the PC–and turned them into instruments of fear and greed, rather than facilitators of peace and love. Even our medical advances are marketed through fear: the MRI, the PSA test, the mammogram.

This leads me to believe, as we go into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, that technology has, on balance, not changed a damned thing. Or at least not anything important.

But if I had to choose, I might choose the era of greed over the era of fear.

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