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Tech Pessimism

·3 mins

For a long time I was a futurist, and an optimist about technology in general. I agreed with the thesis that technology makes everything better over time. These days, I’m older and (maybe?) wiser, and I’ve become a lot more pessimistic about technology in general.

Jet fuel
Can our fossil fuel machines save us from the problem created by fossil fuels? 🤔

At the moment we’re living in the 6th mass extinction event, which is entirely the result of human activities. This fact is not something that’s up for debate, we have mountains of data which support this.

The thing about technology (and software in particular) is that it has had a tendency to lower costs and thereby increase the relative power of people who have traditionally received the short end of the stick in life. Or at least, it did for a while.

Today, however, I’m not really seeing technology improving peoples’ lives like it did 10 years ago. The Internet was an incredible creation, and what made it great was that no single entity such as a government or company controlled the whole thing. Now, however, the Internet is really just a delivery system for a handful of content arbitrators.

There’s lots of other great technology out there: take for example heat pumps, which are something I’m a bit obsessed with because of their incredibly valuable ability to move heat around.

However, once we start talking about heat pumps, I start to get more pessimistic. You can’t go to any discussion about them on the Internet without reading a bunch of false statements about how they “don’t work in cold weather” or whatever it might be. Another problem with heat pumps is that they aren’t cheap. They’re “cheap” in the sense that they’re no more expensive than an air conditioner, but in absolute terms it’s quite expensive to rip out a traditional fossil fuel based system and replace it with heat pumps. So what incentive is there for anyone to utilize this technology if it’s going to cost them a whole lot up front?

Plus, not to get too conspiracy theory or whatever, there is a huge industry that is strongly opposed to technology like heat pumps because it’s a threat to their bottom line. If you dig into the details of the “Inflation Reduction Act”, which is being advertised as “climate” legislation, you’ll notice that most of the “green” tax breaks aren’t available to most people because it caps out at levels that eliminate eligibility for the majority of homeowners who might want to install a heat pump (150% of median income, if you’re wondering). It’s almost as if it’s designed to fail, while simultaneously extending huge free money handouts to oil companies (which, let’s be honest, is the only reason the legislation ever passed).

So going back to the subject of technology: what is there to be excited about? When new, disruptive, relatively affordable technology comes along the incumbents (i.e., oil companies) will do everything in their power to wage a war of misinformation in order to prevent anyone from moving away from oil.

If technology could save us from annihilating ourselves from this planet (which, I do not believe it can), there would be just enough Senators (team red or blue makes no difference) willing to block any legislation that might accelerate the adoption of said technology because it would be bad for profits for companies selling fossil fuel products.

I’ve written about the subject of degrowth before. At this point, our option is intentional degrowth (call it a “soft landing”), or unintentional degrowth (“hard landing”), which will come about one way or another, and probably much Faster Than Expected™.