Edward Tenner’s “Why Things Bite Back” essay

Today, the development of technologies has reached an unprecedentedly high level. The technological progress became an important part of the life of the contemporary society which defines the further development of society, its socioeconomic and political life.

Nowadays technologies are changing so rapidly that people can hardly follow all the changes that happen in the world of modern technologies. Particularly rapid changes occur in the field of informational technologies. As a result the problem of technological hype arises since there are a lot of information and advertising that consumers receive about the product that is rather just introduced or is on its way to introduction. In such a situation it becomes more and more difficult to decide whether the product is really useful and necessary for a consumer or it is simply a trick used by a company in order to attract public attention to its product.

At the same time, the development of new technologies and considerable changes provoked by new technologies can have dangerous side effects which can increase threats the mankind traditionally faced. To put it more precisely, the progress of technologies is often accompanied by numerous complications which create new threats to people, which have not existed before the introduction of new technologies. In such a situation, the technological progress proves to be highly controversial since, on the one hand, it facilitates human life and opens huge opportunities for the further development, while, on the other hand, new technologies expose the mankind to new threats which have not existed before the introduction of new technologies or which have been insignificant. Consequently, the modern society faces a dilemma: either continue the development of new technologies or focus on the maintenance of stability and the existing situation unchanged. However, whatever the answer to this dilemma could be, in actuality it is obvious that technological progress is inevitable and cannot be stopped. Therefore, new risks are as inevitable as the introduction of new technologies and the mankind should learn how to cope with these new, unexpected risks and how to figure out the appearance of such risks.

Nowadays the discussions concerning the problem of technological development are quite actual and up-to-date. On the one hand, technology hype is really a part of our everyday life. On the other hand its effect and even its definition are not absolutely clear.

Nonetheless, it does not mean that it is an abstract phenomenon that should be analyzed as a philosophical category.

On the contrary, it can be and should be analyzed in terms of pragmatic realistic research that refers to sociological and economic fields.

First of all, it is necessary to underline that the life cycle and the cycle of invention and introduction of new technologies become shorter and shorter, particularly in the informational sphere. Naturally, new technologies are not so easy to introduce but the real problem is how to sell a new technology or a new product. Trying to define the notion of technology hype cycle, it is possible to find different definitions which may be summoned up in the following definition given by Ron Schneiderman in his book Technology Lost: Hype and Reality in the Digital Age, so he defines the technology hype cycle as the mean time between the first exposure to the public of a technology or product and its actual acceptance in mass market terms (2002).

However, in order to understand this phenomenon such a brief definition is obviously insufficient and it is necessary to draw some examples and larger definitions concerning technology hype. By the way, it is quite helpful to use definitions given to the word hype’ itself. In the Random House dictionary it is defined as 1) to stimulate, excite, agitate; 2) to intensify (publicity) by ingenious or questionable methods; 3) an ingenious or questionable method used in publicity to intensify the effect. Judging from these definitions the concept of technological progress has quite a negative connotation. At the same time for a conservative person such impression could be enforced by adding the words new technologies.

Actually, the negative attitude to technology hype is quite widely spread but it would be discussed in the next chapter of this paper. Now it would be better to dwell upon the entity of the phenomenon.

It should be pointed out that technologies, playing a significant role practically in all contemporary products, constitute a significant part of the final price of the product. For instance, in automobile industry new technological innovations in the sphere of electronics constitute over 40 % of value of a car and all these technological innovations are intensively promoted that results in the technological progress. However, their effectiveness seems to be quite doubtful for an average consumer since he/she has to buy such a car full of different innovations despite whether they are wanted or not. Regardless the latter fact producers continue to introduce new innovations in order to overcome their rivals.

That is traditionally called the technology hype cycle. As Ron Schneiderman points out this cycle has five phases and products gradually pass all of them. The technology trigger’ is breakthrough, product launch or any other event that generates significant press industry interest and that is the first phase. Than the peak of inflated expectations usually results in unrealistic projections. After that traditionally the trough of disillusionment occurs. Within this phase does not live up to its over-inflated expectations. The so-called slope of enlightenment happens when experimentation leads to an understanding of the technology’s applicability and finally the plateau of productivity’ occurs when the benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted. (Schneiderman 2002). Actually, that is the basic phases of the technology hype cycle.

On analyzing the entity of the technology hype cycle, it would be logical to dwell upon the effect it produces on the society. As it has already been mentioned there are a lot of new technologies that have been introduced recently and probably even more innovations would be introduced in the nearest future.

One of the main perspective field remain hi-tech and IT. Actually there are a lot of examples that prove the effect of hype and the effect is both positive and negative. At the same time, it is quite noteworthy that whether consumers want it or not but they are affected by the technology hype in this way or another. In fact Schneiderman points out three basic consequences of the technology hype, they are 1) consumers are overloaded by hype; 2) consumers should not believe all the hype; and finally 3) much hype about little that is new (2002).

Probably the most evident the effect of the technology hype is in informational technologies and recent achievements in hi-tech. For instance, data has a very perspective future for wireless, at the same time specialists express their apprehension that the hype outrun the reality. So they estimate that we found some of the most hyped features in smart’ phones to be the least useful or at least several technological leaps away from being useful. That was especially true of Internet access, a completely unsatisfying experience on the phones we tested (Scneiderman 2002). That is a negative effect of the technology hype the result of which is a disappointment of consumers because they have not got what they have been promised to.

At the same time, in some cases new products possess such qualities that are not really necessary for consumers and naturally they do not use them and the product remains a bit invalid’ since it is not used as it potentially could be.

However, it should be said the technology hype often overestimate the quality and options of a perspective product but it still contributes to the development of new technologies and new products are full of different innovations.

Even though consumers do not us all advantages new products have it is the problem of producers that they did not apply new technologies properly and easy to use but not the problem of consumers for sure. On the contrary, consumers benefits from such a rapid progress.

On the other hand, there is one more problem that is an extremely short hype cycle which in fact is closely related and probably engenders the first problem that have been mentioned above the impossibility to use all new products that appear in the market and all of its options.

Obviously, the development of new technologies is a highly controversial process and the fact that the modern technology makes a tremendously rapid progress may be quite dangerous for the future of the mankind (Tenner, 2005). In actuality, the positive effect of the development of new technologies is emphasized. Naturally, the modern consumerist society benefits consistently from the introduction of new technologies since people can enjoy more comfortable life using new technologies. People readily accept new technologies which facilitate their work, which make their life safer due to the progress of medicine, for instance. However, all the progress of the modern technology has another side and a number of negative effects, which are not as pleasant as benefits of new technologies.

In this respect, it is important to underline the fact that new technologies can often have effects which are not predicted or taking into consideration by their developers (Tenner, 2005) This characteristic of modern technologies makes them potentially dangerous for modern people and the irrational introduction of new technologies without taking consideration all possible negative effects of these technologies can be even more dangerous as technologies grow more and more complicated.

Edward Tenner argues that people pay little attention to negative effects as they introduce new technologies, but they are mainly oriented on possible benefits they can receive in the result of the application of new technologies in their life (2005). For instance, the development of medicine opens larger opportunities for the treatment of patients which used to be considered incurable in the past. On the other hand, the invention of antibiotics and their further development contributed to the emergence of new bacteria and evolution of existing ones, which become more and more dangerous to human health. In fact, it is possible to find a lot of similar examples of new technologies which may have similar side effects which may be potentially dangerous for humans. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the recent developments in the field of genetics and the creation of genetically modified plants and other organisms.

In fact, the possible effects of the introduction of such technologies are unclear and even specialists working in the field of genetics cannot foresee outcomes of the wide implementation of these technologies. Nevertheless, in the context of the growing shortage of food, genetically modified plants have been already introduced and are cultivating, even though all the risks that accompany the use of such products are not really taken into consideration.

In fact, it is possible to find dangerous and negative effects of new technologies practically in all fields, but, as a rule, benefits outweigh possible dangerous effects and people ignore possible danger that the new technologies can bring to people. Such an approach to new technologies may be erroneous, as Edward Tenner (2005) believes. However, in actuality, it is necessary to underline the fact that the introduction of new technologies is an essential part of the general progress of the mankind. Today, new technologies can open absolutely new opportunities for the progress of the mankind.

As for prospects of the technological development, it should be said that nowadays for instance there are a lot of hype and speculation surrounding next-generation networks. It seems to be quite simple to predict with a high degree of certainty that this direction is very perspective and in the future it will progress. But the hype surrounding it would probably have the same effect it has now because the basic principles of its functioning and the basic principles of the market remain unchangeable. Consequently, there would be the same problems that are observed now but also there certainly would be benefits for consumers and naturally for producers as well.    

On the other hand, negative effects of new technologies are either unknown or under-researched, but even if people are conscious of certain risks it does not prevent them from the introduction of new technologies because new technologies mean progress. Obviously, without a progress the mankind is likely to degrade, while new technology accelerate human evolution and the technological advancement brings benefits which always dominate and overshadow all possible risks.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the technological progress and scientific researches are essential elements which contribute to the progress of human science. In fact, the development of the mankind is practically unthinkable without the development and introduction of new technologies. At the same time, it is necessary to remember about numerous risks that accompany the introduction of new technologies. It is extremely important for researchers to figure out possible effects both positive and negative of the introduction of new technologies and scientific experiments before their practical implementation. Otherwise, the development of science become uncontrollable and, therefore, dangerous for the entire mankind.

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