I've seen quite a change in attitude towards technology, over the decades. Tales of Future Past, a remarkable collection by David S. Zondy, celebrates the days when:
"...our future was supposed to be a sort of technocratic, atomic-powered, computer-controlled, antiseptic, space-travelling Jerusalem that would at last free us from the curse of Eden and original sin. We expected some how, some way that we would be on the road to being freed from the human condition. We expected a sort of bloodless, benign French Revolution with Hugo Gernsback as our Voltaire and Carl Sagan as our Robespierre. And what did we get? The City of Man with Tivo. The fact is, science fiction and popular science had set the bar so high that only the Second Coming with ray guns would have satisfied...."I watched that view change to the 'and we're all gonna die' belief that technology was evil. Or, for the more up-to-date: polluting; dehumanizing; depersonalizing; and humanity is doomed anyway.
(Tales of Future Past)
Beware the Demon Technology and Other SillinessMy guess is that some circles still see technology as a sort of secular demon bent on reducing humanity to a deplorable state of ungrooviness, Although the post-apocalyptic future of mutant frogs (Hell Comes to Frogtown) and armored dune buggies has a certain panache, I really don't think it's all that likely.
Humanity somehow survived agriculture.1 If we can do that, we can take on just about anything.
Although some technologies are more dangerous than others, I don't think that anything human beings mess with is, strictly speaking, safe. That's because of some assumptions I have, about the nature of reality.
- Some people aren't generally
- Technology is most dangerous when it's used by people who are
- Not nice or
- Not competent or
- Not careful or
- Some combination of the above
People are People, Tools are Tools: There's a DifferenceWhat we do can be done on a larger scale if we've got tools: but it's the human mind directing the tool; not the other way around.
Buck Rogers and the Temple of DoomTechnology can be part of the background, or it could be a central part of the conflict.
Take the early days of the industrial revolution, when people who didn't like the new technology sabotaged it with their wooden shoes. Or, didn't. Makes a good story, though. (Merriam-Webster Inc. has a pretty good discussion of where the word "sabotage" comes from.)
The point is: that's conflict, centering around technology.
A few short references to technology can place a story in history - or quickly establish a setting. Mention blowguns, poison darts, and a dugout canoe, and many (most, I hope) readers will fill in the rest of the setting from their own (more-or-less accurate) knowledge. Talk about a disrupter, shield generators, and a landing pod and you've evoked a very different setting.
Show your readers someone donning a space suit, getting into a dugout canoe, and dodging poison darts on the way to a shield generator - and you've either hooked or confused the reader.
All of which leads into another list of posts. This set deals with inventions: strange; feared; and (in the case of the warp drive) yet-to-come.
Unless otherwise noted, these posts are from Apathetic Lemming of the North.
- "Gamers are Geezers, Apparently: 35, Overweight, and Bummed Out"
(August 23, 2009)
- "The Threat of Dangerous New Technologies: It's Not All That New"
(August 23, 2009)
- Socrates tried to warn us!
- "Asimov's 3 Laws, Real Robots, and Common Sense"
(August 20, 2009)
- "Good News, Neural Devices Connect Brain, Computers: Bad News, Same Thing"
(July 11, 2009)
- "Never Heard of the Packing Noodle? There's a Reason"
(July 1, 2009)
- "Warp Drive Might Not Be Stable: Physcisists Take Another look at Alcubierre's Work"
(June 12, 2009)
- "Tetris: Invented in Russia (This Time, Chekov's Right)"
(June 6, 2009)
- "Very Odd Gizmos for the Home"
(May 16, 2009)
- "Thomas Edison: Inventions by the Bushel"
(May 12, 2009)
- "Technology, Perceptions of Magic, and the Human Condition"
(May 8, 2009)
- "Warp Drive: Yes, it May Be Possible; But Don't Hold Your Breath"
(May 7, 2009)
- "Helicopter Ejection Seats, Detachable Dog Sacks, and Other Weirdness"
(March 18, 2009)
- "Handwriting's Dying! So are Our Personalities! (According to the BBC)"
(February 26, 2009)
- "Protesting Against New Technology - the Early Days"
(February 23, 2009)
- "Why 'Hello,' and Mark Twain About Telephone Conversations"
(August 20, 2008)
- "Yesterday's Inventions"
(August 16, 2008)
- "DC Gun Ban, Online Censorship, Individual Rights, and Power to the People"
Another War-on-Terror Blog2 (June 27, 2008)
- "Cure for Cancer and Energy from the Sea? This Might Actually Work"
(June 16, 2008)
- "Inventor Buried in Pringles Can - No Kidding"
(June 2, 2008)
- "The Telectroscope: New York - London Live Link"
(May 23, 2008)
- "May 16, 1960 - Invention of the Laser on That Very Day: Sort of"
(May 16, 2008)
- " 'Green' Gadgets That Actually Make Sense"
(May 7, 2008)
- "Cell Phone Technology of the Future: Never Mind, it's Here"
(April 30, 2008)
- "Better Ideas From America: Really Big Water Balloons"
(April 13, 2008)
- "A Website Celebrating Very Strange Patents"
(April 6, 2008)
- "Better Ideas from America: Strap-on Automotive Dog Sack"
(March 20, 2008)
- "Better Ideas From France: A Car That Runs on Compressed Air"
(January 24, 2008)
- "Swedish Sauna House"
(January 2, 2008)
- "EEEK! Guns! Hoplophobia and Foreign Policy"
Another War-on-Terror Blog2 (December 23, 2007)
- "Better Ideas From ... "
(October 15, 2007)
- "Top 10 Inventions of the Middle Ages - That's Right: Middle Ages"
(September 22, 2007)
- "Agriculture as a Mistake"
(October 29, 2007)
- "Don't Know What to Say?"
(September 19, 2007)
- Okay: This one's a stretch
- "Physics Student Notes Large Hadron Collider Glitch"
(March 25, 2009)
- "Anatoli Bugorski and the Proton Ray of Doom "
(February 7, 2009)
- "LHC Peril! Large Hadron Collider Black Hole Will Eat Earth!! - or, Not"
(January 27, 2009)
- "CERN's Large Hadron Collider Goes Full Circuit"
(September 10, 2008)
- "Large Hadron Collider - Tests Still Going Well "
(August 26, 2008)
- "CERN's Large Hadron Collider: the Proton Beam Failsafe "
(August 22, 2008)
- "Large Hadron Collider - the Countdown Continues "
(July 6, 2008)
- "Large Hadron Collider - Huge Research Tool "
(June 28, 2008)
- "CERN Large Hadron Collider: Photos "
(March 20, 2008)
- "Photos of Five Cool Research Facilities"
(January 5, 2008)
1 Agriculture may have been the single most dangerous technology humanity has come up with yet. It took us thousands of years to recover from the devastating effects of its use. ("Agriculture as a Mistake" Apathetic Lemming of the North (October 29, 2007))
2 This isn't a perfect world. Sometimes not-nice people do naughty things; and won't stop even when they're asked nicely. Which leads me to this set of thoughts:
- War isn't nice - things get broken and people die
- This is not good.
- Diplomacy can lead to mutually-acceptable compromise
- This is good
- War is not nice
- But sometimes it's better than the alternative
What's pertinent to writing in the science fiction / speculative fiction genre(s) is that 'dangerous' technology isn't
- Always a weapon
- Bad by itself