quotes With all the technological advancements of our age, why are we not better off?

06 June 2024
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Updated 06 June 2024

With all the technological advancements of our age, why are we not better off?

It is no exaggeration to say that we live in an era of unprecedented progress, standards of living, and access to information and opportunities. Great inequalities do remain between people and between countries, but we have indeed reached an unmatched level of access to tools and opportunities to improve our lives and those of others.

Why is it then that we seem to have more stresses and disappointments than before, constantly malcontent and chasing after the latest fashion, for never-ending consumption? Why is it that we have not applied all our tools and ingenuity to halting the human destruction of the environment or the depletion of our planet’s resources, which we seem to have almost forgotten about lately? It would appear that we have lost our sense of direction, or any sense of goals greater than ourselves to strive for.

To get a feel for how much has changed in our era, we could do worse than to focus on poverty. Just 30 years ago, more than two billion people lived below the international poverty line. Out of a global population of about 5.5 billion at the time, this represents more than a third of humanity.

Today, poverty has been reduced to a degree where there are 650 million people living under the poverty line, which out of a population of more than 8 billion represents “only” 8 percent of humanity. For millennia now, our prophets and greatest thinkers have been preoccupied by how we can finally beat the shameful existence of poverty amid plenty. We can truly say today that we have made tremendous progress, that more human beings than ever have access not only to adequate nourishment but also to advanced means of communication and opportunity.

To be sure, poverty does still exist, inequalities have even increased, and we remain ashamed of the conditions which some people are forced to live in in this day and age. Technology is also becoming ever more elitist, hourly pay rates are raised, but with increased robotisation this is a temporary band-aid. There was a time when the less fortunate were also less aware of what they were missing out on. Today, the less fortunate also have smartphones, showing them the riches which some enjoy, and they also want to be able to wait in line for the latest technologies to consume.

We have all become more aware of the many frivolous and unnecessary things we feel we are missing out on. Forgetting all except supporting the mechanics of capitalism that gives corporations ever more power over us, we are all constantly seduced by the sirens of technology and consumption. The progress we want to consume has no end, and its primary result is waste and the ever-encroaching degradation of the environment that our lives ultimately depend on.

As we ordinary people urge the overexploitation of resources to feed our need for overconsumption, nations are also pushing technology to a new paroxysm of destruction by seeking to outdo each other in weaponry and technologies of killing. At one time, there was only one nuclear-capable country; now there are many, and yet more who could become nuclear within a matter of a few years.

Today, they pride themselves on newfangled stealth bombers, on ever more capable and destructive drones, on AI technology that can run a war without any human input whatsoever, ready to attack friend or foe. We know that any weapon we create will eventually be used, just as the nuclear bomb was dropped twice on Japan. The wars in Ukraine, Gaza, in Sudan have become testing grounds for new weaponry, pushing us ever closer to the brink.

It is truly frightening to speculate what comes next. For much of human history, we have been driven by reasons and goals greater than ourselves; today we are lost, we no longer seem to have any objective except for the consumption of the latest and greatest that technology has to offer us. We have been drugged into believing that technology can solve all our problems.

It is time that we once again found a way to believe, to believe in ourselves and in our capacity to do good, for ourselves and for others. We cannot allow the shadow of darkness to spread further, the clouds to hide the rays of sunshine, only to find that technology has undone us and its newest weapons are all pointed at us.

The greatest hope, I believe, is the power of people to people, the power of goodwill and the power of rediscovering goals greater than ourselves. As people have come together to protest what is being enacted on the people of Gaza, we have rediscovered the power of humanity, of empathy and of making a difference. Technology has played a useful role in opening our eyes to what is going on, also allowing us to express ourselves and to communicate usefully.

We must encourage such uses of technology, in combination with our human spirit, goodwill and empathy. The environment and the wellbeing of the planet that sustains us must also be restored as the absolute priority for all of humanity. We can make technology work for us, even work for our planet, but this must be based on people engaging with people for goals greater than ourselves. Then, perhaps, we can rediscover some meaning and true contentment away from consumption and technology.

  • Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi Arabia’s petroleum ministers, Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani, from 1959-1967. He led the Saudi Information Office in Washington from 1972-1981 and served with the Arab League’s observer delegation to the UN from 1981-1983.