The Fear Of The Techno-Babble
Technology is nothing but the sum total of any human techniques, tools, processes, and systems used in the creation of products or services and in the achievement of specific goals, for example the quest for a better way to conduct research or establish new scientific facts. Technological change is thus nothing less than an abstract concept, which can be studied theoretically or even analytically. All attempts to assign a precise definition to technology are largely speculative and subject to ongoing debate.
The most familiar definition of technology is that of the “arts,” specifically the applied arts, which include music, architecture, film, television, and the physical sciences. Although most of us readily think of technological progress as a product of modern society and the technological sciences, this was not always so. For thousands of years, human societies were characterized by complex cultural practices, including hunting, fishing, weaving, and building. The artifacts and skills associated with these activities were passed on from generation to generation, with little attention to technological developments until much later.
In modern times, technophobia has often been associated with technological developments or with new forms of communication, including computer sciences, engineering, and computer software. Historically, knowledge about how things work was considered sacred, so it was almost never shared beyond the scientific community. This led to a certain ignorance about the benefits of technology, which contributed to the rise of technophobia. Nowadays, most people are familiar with a wide variety of technologies, but they tend to think of these things in terms of their practical application. Technophobia is therefore rarely expressed as a rejection of modern society or of technological advances; rather, it is usually couched in terms of a fear of the unknown.
There is no easy way to define a fear of the unknown. Since technophobia is typically a reaction against scientific advances, its definition will have to be a subjective one. Some will reject the idea of technological development based on intuition, while others will embrace the unknown because of their belief that science is not sure enough to trust. Even those who are not particularly concerned with the future should be wary of accepting new knowledge blindly. This doesn’t mean that people with high levels of scientific literacy are necessarily smarter than others, but the fact that the unknown is often more frightening makes acceptance of scientific information a much more difficult task than a simple fear of the unknown.
Technophobia does not have an equivalent in other psychological conditions, where people choose to be afraid of the unknown rather than the unknown itself. For instance, many people feel very apprehensive about flying, but rarely worry about spaceships or time travel. Some people may be scared of spiders, but have no problem recognizing a poisonous spider. A phobia of the intellect is a lot like this: the person is aware that technological know-how can pose a problem, but cannot figure out how to avoid the problem. While it would be easy to attribute this particular phobia to some kind of societal prejudice, the fact is that there are many reasons why a person might be afraid of knowledge, and not all of them are related to racism, sexism, or religion.
This is not to say that technophobia is not a valid fear. Many physical conditions, such as asthma, have been related to the dangers of technological know-how. However, technological understandings are by and large beneficial to society. People have always had an instinctual need to learn more about the world around them, and technological advances allow us to do so much more. By embracing technophobia as an irrational fear, we limit our own abilities, limiting scientific knowledge, and denying ourselves access to the greatest treasures of the human species.