Conventional Wisdom Challenged: Technology is NOT Neutral

By Mickey Z.

“The truth has to be repeated,” wrote Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmad. “It doesn’t become stale just because it has been told once. So keep repeating it. Don’t bother about who has listened, who not listened… the media and the other institutions of power are so powerful that telling the truth once is not enough. You’ve got to keep repeating different facts, prove the same point.”


Repetition is precisely how Corporate America does it…the same messages pounded into our brains until we submit. That pounding is usually accomplished via technology and thus, it becomes extremely useful to deify the gizmos and gadgets utilized to keep the masses distracted and pacified.

What is Wrong with Technology?

That’s why we so often hear: Technology is neutral. It’s only as good or as bad as those using it.

It’s repeated so often that few of us even stop to question its validity. Therefore, even though I’ve written about this several times before, I will heed Eqbal Ahmad’s words and once again discuss some of the reasons why technology is definitely not neutral.

*Technology = Toxic Waste. How about three million tons of household electronics tossed by Americans in 2006? There are 300 million obsolete computers in the U.S. today and only 50% of a computer is recycled. The non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead. Seventy percent of the entire toxic waste stream of landfills is e-waste.

*Technology = Alienation. We have social media but we’re sacrificing social skills. “With the present means of long distance mass communication, sprawling isolation has proved an even more effective method of keeping a population under control, henceforth a one-way world,” wrote Lewis Mumford. To green anarchists, technology is “more than wires, silicon, plastic, and steel. It is a complex system involving division of labor, resource extraction, and exploitation for the benefit of those who implement its process. The interface with and result of technology is always an alienated, mediated, and distorted reality.”

*Technology is not available to everyone…not even close. In Australia, 60.4% of the population has access to the Internet. In Asia, that number is 19.4%. Pretty stark difference, huh? Get ready for this one: In North America, 74.2% of the population has access to the Internet. In Africa, that number is 6.8%. If you think it can’t get worse than that, try this on for size: In six African nations—Burundi, Chad, Central African Republic, Liberia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone—only 3 to 5% of people can access electricity. In fact, 79% of the Third World (1.5 billion people) has no access to electricity.

*Technology results in environmental racism. While the developed world quenches its insatiable thirst for the newest and latest doohickey, much of the subsequent e-waste is exported to countries like India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana. “The pollution and related health problems in countries where e-waste is dumped will increase massively as the amount of electronics used worldwide is growing exponentially and the number of countries used as dump sites will grow,” says Kim Schoppink, Toxics Campaigner at Greenpeace.

*Technology devours nature. Thanks to the automobile culture, for example, in the 20th century, an area equal to all the arable land in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania was paved in the U.S. This means highways, off-ramps, parking lots, etc.—each replacing countless eco-systems. This is easily the most crucial issue of all because, unlike the others listed above, this one cannot be “fixed.” Rather, we need an entirely new perspective. We’re talking 180 degrees, comrades.

Case in Point

Case in point: In 2010, when they discovered nearly 6 million tons of lithium in Bolivia, the feeding frenzy began instantly. Even the green crowd was clamoring for the lithium to be exploited, promising “big changes” for Bolivia, South America’s poorest country.

Big changes indeed. Haven’t we seen this movie before? How did the whole oil thing work out? How about coal? Coltan? Palm oil? Why would anyone think mining lithium in South America’s poorest country is going to have a happy ending (except for short-term corporate profits)?

Wouldn’t it be a gigantic step in a dark green direction to stop viewing natural elements as “resources” that must be immediately extracted and sold? Imagine being part of the first human generation in centuries to work in harmony with the natural world.

(We could just dig this Lithium instead.)

Self-serving slogans of indoctrination like “technology is neutral” are not easily challenged, of course, and doing so may require a similar brand of replication. This reiteration has the added value of refreshing one’s memory, re: facts needed to back up your critiques.

Repeat after me: I will embrace the subversive pleasure of thinking for myself. I will embrace the subversive pleasure of thinking for myself. Φ

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. He wrote this article for Project Censored.


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