In the second part of a four-part series, Hannah Jeacock discusses what tech utopia is and how we have viewed utopia in the past.
Traditional images of utopia are frequently based around people living in harmony with nature, which at first glance seems at odds with the technological age. The increased use of technology has actually meant spending less time in nature with a larger focus on the artificial, but current technology is still at an early stage of development and this moment of immersion will pass, perhaps replaced by augmented reality or increased auditory technology.
Not all historic models of utopia are focussed on the past. If we look back as far back as Plato, a society was idealised where progression, rather than regression would create the ideal state. This was intended to be somewhere that education and development could be emphasised, leading to a thinking society, an intelligent and advanced world, free of crime; this state of constant refinement and advancement was utopia.
A utopia is an ideal state which benefits everyone, so the premise for a ‘tech-utopia’ is that it should be a world where technological advancement benefits us all. It is unlikely, that is to say basically impossible, to create a world where all technology is intrinsically good, benefits every single person, and never goes wrong, but that doesn’t mean technology can’t create a better world; the devil is in the details.
What is a technological utopia exactly?
A technological utopia is not a utopia where advanced technology exists, it is one which is the result of our homogenous relationship with technology, a world which at some point became better through a model of technology which continues to evolve alongside the lives it assists.
It is crucial to have in mind that if we do create a tech utopia, the philosophy is as important as the products. In the early days of Silicone Valley, a narrative was created around ‘The Californian Ideology’; a loose philosophy of the future of tech created by its architects and free-thinkers.
This was a combination and reflection of everything going on at the time, but mostly a fusion of Californian hippie bohemianism and the (contradictory) business savvy of the competitive tech companies fighting for dominance at the time. The resulting philosophy, influenced through and by the tech media, was a vision of utopia intent on diminishing historic power structures and connecting people as equals through virtual communities.
Evidence of the Californian Ideology’s impact can be seen today in Bitnation, an online country with its own citizenship, passports, marriage-certificates and community-action projects. The interconnected and egalitarian nature of the project, combined with its emphasis on free-trade and moving beyond nation states, displays the realisation of a Californian-style tech-utopia. Social media is a lesser example of this vision, but the lack of real societal change caused by ‘likes’ and sharing campaigns (commenting rather than acting upon issues) has negatively been labelled as ‘slacktivism’, despite the good intentions of users.
Many people misuse technology, either through a lack of understanding or else intentionally misusing it for their own gains; both increase the likelihood of a tech-dystopia emerging instead. Where machines and software are used negatively, or interfere with human life in an unwanted way; tech-utopia cannot be realised.
Tech-utopia is set to fail if the ideas are not implemented correctly – a new tool is only useful if people know how to use it. At the more extreme end of the scale, there have been comments on people becoming inactive and redundant in the age of technology, so as we ask what technology’s role is, we also need to consider our own role and how we want to be depicted in the prophetic picture of our own making.
In part three of this four-part series on technological-utopianism, Hannah will discuss the most up to date philosophies around technology and what the use of technology is seen as now. To read part one of this series, click here.