Technology with a Human Face

Technology with a Human Face

Technology and the Human Race

  • The human race has indeed gone far with technology. From the age when he still used wooden and stone tools to a powerful era of silicon and steel, he ceased to be a helpless prey to a number of predators to become a god among beasts.
  • And now, technology and human way of life have somewhat become inseparable. Everywhere we look, we see its manifestations—from the largest aircraft to the smallest microcomputer chip.
  • Some even cannot do without their gadgets beside them. Technology has become a beast of burden of our time—doing things we usually do in the past, like an able servant at his master’s side, ready to help him whenever need arises. Man created technology to serve this purpose, so that he can then face the more challenging problems ahead.
  • But what if this technology, by all means, becomes uncontrollable by human hands? What if this beast of burden eventually becomes a monster? Could this same technology, which has brought us to a state of luxury and civilization, also lead us to our own ruin? From the evolution of military weapons, to the advent of the nuclear age, man is gradually realizing the fact that his little creation would someday take him to the very edges of his capacities.
  • But despite all this, this fact still holds true: that however powerful it could become, technology is still just one of man’s tools, and will remain as such. It’s still up to is possessor on how he will apply the power he possesses—whether as a tool of progress, or an element of destruction. It may have brought people closer together, but not necessarily on friendly terms.
  • It has brought us times of peace, as well as wars and struggles; it has brought us great prosperities, as well as dismal catastrophes. And now, the environment is being trampled, and people blame technology for it. Countless wars have sprung, they say technology is the culprit; animals are being led to extinction, and they say technology is the one accountable of all.
  • Through technology, we have created and developed new beginnings, at the cost of many end. Yet, technology should never be blamed for all of this, but the wrong use of it. The effect of technology on our surroundings is the complete reflection of our values.
  • Therefore, we should develop the proper culture so as to effectively administer this technology that we have. We should prove to be worthy of its possession, for technology and corruption is a bad combination.

“Technology with a Human Face” by E.F. Schumacher

  • F. Schumacher was an economist of international repute and the author of the book titled “Small is Beautiful”: A study of economics as if people mattered. This essay “Technology with a Human Face” is taken from his book “Small is Beautiful”.
  • In this essay Schumacher expresses his fear and concern about the inhuman nature of modern technology which is taking the world from crisis to crisis and says that a new type of technology called self-help technology is needed so that everyone including old men and children can work with their clever brain and two skilful hands with great satisfaction.
  • Schumacher says that the laws and principles of technology are different from those of human nature. The system of nature is based on self-balancing, self-adjusting and self-cleansing. But technology does not have any self-limit principle.
  • As a result modern world faces three crises simultaneously. Modern technology destroys human life and Nature.
  • Secondly non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels are running short and finally it creates pollution and global warming.
  • Schumacher says that industrialisation of twenty five years could only bring illusory success because the two big problems of unemployment and poverty could not be solved and even in the developed countries unemployment problem is very serious. He says that the primary task of technology is to reduce the burden of man’s work so that he can enjoy life and relax. But modern technology is eliminating skilful, productive and creative work of human hands and brains.
  • Modern technology is gigantic, highly complicated and needed huge capital investment. Only the rich can afford to run modern factories. These labour saving machines makes the rich richer and poor poorer and unemployment and poverty increases all over the world.
  • Thomas Aquinas, the great Italian philosopher and theologian defines man as a being who wants to enjoy doing work with his hands and brains. But in the modern world such work is being done by machines. Such work has become very rare and one has to be immensely rich enough to get such creative, productive and useful work. Instead people get fragmented work which is so boring that workers suffer from neurosis.
  • Schumacher says that only less than one sixth of the total population of the world is engaged in actual production of goods. It means that the proportion of “total social time” spent on actual production is only 3.5 per cent. The other 96.5 per cent of ‘total social time’ is spent in other ways including sleeping, eating, watching television, doing jobs that are not directly productive, or just killing time.
  • Karl Max, the founder of Communism and author of Das Capital had foreseen this tragedy. He said that production of too many useful things, lead to too many useless people. All this confirms our suspicion that modern technology is showing an increasingly inhuman face.
  • We have so far, possessed a vast accumulation of new knowledge which include splendid scientific techniques to increase this knowledge further and immense practical experience in its application. This is called truthful knowledge. But so far, we have made an unwise and destructive use of our technology because we never get enjoyment in our work.
  • Therefore Schumacher suggests an idea that the productive time of 3.5% of total social time to be increased to 20% of total social time. If this wonderful idea is put into practice, even children and old people would be able to do creative, productive and useful work and they can enjoy doing it with their clever brain and two skilful hands.
  • The therapeutic and educational value of such enjoyable and useful work will be blessing for all people in the world. Then no one wants to raise the school leaving age or to lower the retirement age.
  • Everybody would welcome the opportunity of working usefully, creatively with his own hands and brains in his own time at his own pace and with excellent tools. People who work in this way do not know the difference between work and leisure because the work itself is full of pleasure and enjoyment!
  • Schumacher is a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and tries to follow his teaching in the scientific ideas about the new life-style he has visualised in this essay.
  • Gandhiji said that the poor of the world cannot be helped by mass production, only by production by the mass. According to Schumacher, a new technology with a human face should be introduced.
  • The present inhuman technology is based on mass production with highly capital investment and high energy input where workers are mere slaves of work and the rich owner makes huge profit.
  • This system should be changed and a new technology with a human face should be introduced. Instead of mass production, the new system is based on production by the masses.
  • All people, young and old can work with their skilful hands and clever brains with first class tools in their own time and speed and then work would be great pleasure for them.
  • In concluding his essay, Schumacher says that the technology of production by the masses is called “the intermediate technology” because this technology is far superior to the primitive technology of old days, but at the same time much simpler, cheaper and freer than the super technology of the rich.
  • The intermediate technology can also be called ‘self- help technology or democratic or people’s technology. This technology is making use of the best of modern knowledge and experience, suitable for the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of natural resources and designed to serve human being instead of making him the servant of machine.

 

“Society for Technology with a Human Face”

  • In 1933, Rabindranath Tagore, an internationally acclaimed poet, philosopher, social reformer, wrote a short essay entitled: “Can Science be Humanized?” In that essay, Tagore drove the point home that:

“Knowledge is not enough – be it scientific or philosophical – unless we have been able to transform it into the well being of those who need it most.”

  • With that motto as the guiding principle, “Society for Technology with a Human Face” was conceived and founded in 2006 to serve the impoverished communities in India and other neighboring countries.
  • Science and technology are the primary tools that we use to address and mitigate water, sanitation and education problems in building strong, self-sufficient communities.
  • Society for Technology with a Human Face (STHF) focuses on water, sanitation, and education issues around the world.
  • Access to clean water, proper sanitation, and excellent education do not reach hundreds of millions of people each year.
  • STHF works on these issues by using a human rights lens and follows the philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, bolstering sustainable solutions derived and controlled by communities.
  • STHF helps improve the basic quality of life around the world with the hope of generating new knowledge and new wealth.
  • The arsenic removal system designed by Dr. Arup SenGupta’s team at Lehigh University for rural communities in India is now being used in arsenic affected areas in the United States.
  • This flow of knowledge goes in the opposite direction than typical engineering innovations; most science and technology are developed in the West and transferred to the “Rest” without contextualizing the borrowed project. SenGupta’s system moved in the other direction.
  • Moreover, the engineering feat to solve a health problem (high levels of arsenic) generated social, cultural, and economic wealth by providing the platform for community organization (e.g., the formation of water councils, pictured below right, to collect a small fee for the clean water) and entrepreneurship (e.g., water councils using its profit to micro finance other community projects, and the creation of a water-bicycle to bring water from the central filtration system to homes, see picture at left).
  • STHF creates a platform to stimulate an intercultural dialogue around the world where human dignity and individuality are revered. STHF sees water, sanitation, and education as moral, human right issues, and hopes to encourage other foundations and individuals to do the same.
  • STHF instills the power of education in communities to attain self-sustenance among all people. Education is central in development; yet education must be specific to the community it serves.
  • STHF shares in the belief of Education for All, but more so in contextualization as paramount for the success of educational practices worldwide.
  • Through education, communities around the world can begin to re-imagine their world, feel the power of empathy and care, and become active and empowered citizens.
  • STHF serves as a springboard for the implementation of external projects that embody the spirit of the Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Therefore, STHF not only runs its own projects but also supports other non-profits who exemplify Tagore’s message of peace.
  • We recognize that the STHF is an organization of modest means while its goals are exceedingly ambitious.
  • Nevertheless, in agreement with the spirit of Tagore’s life-long endeavors, we reiterate his words, “it is always better to light just one candle at a time than cursing the overwhelming darkness.”

 

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