Present your perspective on the issue below, using relevant reasons and/or examples to support your views.
"As long as people in a society are hungry or out of work or lack the basic skills needed to survive, the use of public resources to support the arts is inappropriate and, perhaps, even cruel—when one considers all the potential uses of such money."
Does knowledge render things more comprehensible, or more complex and mysterious? In my view the acquisition of knowledge brings about all three at the same time. This paradoxical result is aptly explained and illustrated by a number of advances in our scientific knowledge. Consider, for example, the sonar system on which blind bats rely to navigate and especially to seek prey.
Researchers have learned that this system is startlingly sophisticated.
emitting audible sounds, then processing the returning echoes, a bat can determine in a nanosecond not only how far away its moving prey is but also the prey's speed, direction, size and even specie! This knowledge acquired helps explain, of course, how bats navigate and survive. Yet at the same time this knowledge points out the incredible complexity of the auditory and brain functions of certain animals, even of mere humans, and creates a certain mystery and wonder about how such systems ever evolved organically.
Or consider our knowledge of the universe. Advances in telescope and space-exploration technology seem to corroborate the theory of a continually expanding universe that began at the very beginning of time with a "big bang." On one level this knowledge, assuming it qualifies as such, helps us comprehend our place in the universe and our ultimate destiny. Yet on the other hand it adds yet another chapter to the mystery about what existed before time and the universe.
Or consider the area of atomic physics. The naked human eye perceives very little, of course, of the complexity of matter. To our distant ancestors the physical world appeared simple-seemingly comprehensible by means of sight and touch. Then by way of scientific knowledge we learned that all matter is comprised of atoms, which are further comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Then we discovered an even more basic unit of matter called the quark. And now a new so-called "string" theory posits the existence of an even more fundamental, and universal, unit of matter.
On the one hand, these discoveries have rendered things more comprehensible, by explaining and reconciling empirical observations of how matter behaves. The string theory also reconciles the discrepancy between the quantum and wave theories of physics. On the other hand, each discovery has in turn revealed that matter is more complex than previously thought. In fact, the string theory, which is theoretically sound, calls for seven more dimensions in addition to the three we already know about! I'm hard-pressed to imagine anything more complex or mysterious.
In sum, the statement overlooks a paradox about knowledge acquired, at least when it comes to understanding the physical world. When through knowledge a thing becomes more comprehensible and explainable we realize at the same time that it is more complex and mysterious than previously thought.
Is it a "grave mistake" to theorize without data, as the speaker contends? I agree insofar as to theorize before collecting sufficient data is to risk tainting the process of collecting and interpreting further data. However, in a sense the speaker begs the question, by overlooking the fact that every theory requires some data to begin with. Moreover, the claim unfairly ignores equally grave consequences of waiting to theorize until we obtain too much data.
In one important respect I agree with the speaker's contention. A theory conjured up without the benefit of data amounts to little more that the theorist's hopes and desires what he or she wants to be true and not be true. Accordingly, this theorist will tend to seek out evidence that supports the theory, and overlook or avoid evidence that refutes it. One telling historical example involves theories about the centre of the Universe. Understandably, we ego-driven humans would prefer that the universe revolve around us. Early theories presumed so for this reason, and subsequent observations that ran contrary to this ego-driven theory were ignored, while the observers were scorned and even vilified.
By theorizing before collecting data the theorist also runs that risk of interpreting that data in a manner which makes it appear to lend more credence to the theory than it actually does. Consider the theory that the Earth is flat. Any person with a clear view of the horizon must agree in all honesty that the evidence does not support the theory. Yet prior to Newtonian physics the notion of a spherical Earth was so unsettling to people that they interpreted the arc-shaped horizon as evidence of a convex, yet nevertheless "flattish," Earth.
Despite the merits of the speaker's claim, I find it problematic in two crucial respects. First, common sense informs me that it is impossible to theorize in the first place without at least some data. How can theorizing without data be dangerous, as the speaker con tends, if it is not even possible? While a theory based purely on fantasy might ultimately be born out by empirical observation, it is equally possible that it won't. Thus without prior data a theory is not worth our time or attention. Secondly, the speaker's claim overlooks the inverse problem: the danger of continuing to acquire data without venturing a theory based on that data. To postpone theorizing until all the data is in might be to postpone it forever. The danger lies in the reasons we theorize and test our theories: to solve society's problems and to make the world a better place to live. Unless we act timely based on our data we render ourselves impotent. For example, governments tend to respond to urgent social problems by establishing agencies to collect data and think-tanks to theorize about causes and solutions. These agencies and think-tanks serve no purpose unless they admit that they will never have all the data and that no theory is fool proof, and unless timely action is taken based on the best theory currently available before the problem overwhelms us.
To sum up, I agree with the speaker insofar as a theory based on no data is not a theory but mere whimsy and fancy, and insofar as by theorizing first we tend to distort the extent to which data collected thereafter supports our own theory. Nevertheless, we put ourselves in equal peril by mistaking data for knowledge and progress, which require us not only to theorize but also to act upon our theories with some useful end in mind.
Are scandals useful in calling our attention to important problems, as this statement suggests? I agree that in many cases scandals can serve to reveal larger problems that a community or society should address. On the other hand, scandals can sometimes distract us from more important societal issues.
On the one hand, scandals can sometimes serve to call our attention to pervasive social or political problems that we would otherwise neglect. Perhaps the paradigmatic modern example is the Watergate scandal. Early in that scandal it would have been tempting to dismiss it as involving one isolated incidence of underhanded campaign tactics. But, in retrospect the scandal forever increased the level of scrutiny and accountability to which our public officials are held, thereby working a significant and lasting benefit to our society. More recently, the Clinton-Gore fundraising scandal sparked a renewed call for campaign-finance reform. In fact the scandal might result in the passage of a congressional bill outlawing private campaign contributions altogether, thereby rendering presidential candidates far less susceptible to undue influence of special-interest groups. Our society would be the dear beneficiary of such reform. Surely, no public speaker or reformer could have called our nation's collective attention to the problem of presidential misconduct unless these two scandals had surfaced.
On the other hand, scandals can sometimes serve chiefly to distract us from more pressing community or societal problems. At the community level, for example, several years ago the chancellor of a university located in my city was expelled from office for misusing university funds to renovate his posh personal residence. Every new development during the scandal became front-page news in the campus newspaper. But did this scandal serve any useful purpose? No, The scandal did not reveal any pervasive problem with university accounting practices. It did not result in any sort of useful system-wide reform. Rather, it was merely one incidence of petty misappropriation. Moreover, the scandal distracted the university community from far more important issues, such as affu'mative action and campus safety, which were relegated to the second page of the campus news paper during the scandal.
Even on a societal level, scandals can serve chiefly to distract us from more important matters. For example, time will tell whether the Clinton sex scandal will benefit our political, social, or legal system. Admittedly, the scandal did call our attention to certain issues of federal law. It sparked a debate about the powers and duties of legal prosecutors, under the Independent Counsel Act, vis-i-vis the chief executive while in and out of office. And the various court rulings about executive privilege and immunity WIU serve useful legal precedents for the furore. Even the impeachment proceedings xxhll no doubt provide useful procedural precedent at some future time. Yet on balance, it seems to me that the deleterious effects of the scandal in terms of the financial expense to taxpayers and the various harms to the many individuals caught up in the legal process out weigh these benefits. More importantly, for more than a year the scandal served chiefly to distract us from our most pressing national and global problems, such as the Kosovo crisis, our social-security crisis, and health-care reform, to name just a few.
In sum, I agree that scandals often serve to flag important socio-political problems more effectively than any speaker or reformer can. However, whether a scandal works more benefit than harm to a community or society must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
In today's world is practicality our idol one which all powers and talents must serve. While this claim has considerable merit with respect to most areas of human endeavor-including education, art, and politics take exception with the claim when it comes to the direction of scientific research today.
Practicality seems clearly to be the litmus test for education today. Grade-schoolers are learning computer skills right along with reading and writing. Our middle and high schools are increasingly cutting arts education, which ostensibly has less practical value than other course work. And, more and more college students are majoring in technical fields for the purpose of securing lucrative jobs immediately upon graduation. Admittedly, many college students still advance to graduate-level study; yet the most popular such degree today is the MBA; after all, business administration is fundamentally about practicality and pragmatism that is, "getting the job done" and paying attention to the "bottom line."
Practicality also dictates what sort of art is produced today. Most new architecture today is driven by functionality, safety, and cost; very few architectural masterpieces find their way past the blueprint stage anymore. The content of today's feature films and music is driven entirely by demographic considerations that is, by pandering to the interests of 18-35 year olds, who account for most ticket and CD sales. And, the publishing industry today is driven by immediate concern to deliver viable products to the marketplace. The glut of how-to books in our bookstores today is evidence that publishers are pandering to our practicality as well. It isn't that artists no longer create works of high artistic value and integrity. Independent record labels, filmmakers, and publishing houses abound today. It's just that the independents do not thrive, and they constitute a minuscule segment of the market. In the main, today's real-estate developers, entertainment moguls, and publishing executives are concerned with practicality and profit, and not with artistic value and integrity.
Practicality is also the overriding concern in contemporary politics. Most politicians seem driven today by their interest in being elected and re-elected that is, in short-term survival rather than by any sense of mission, or even obligation to their constituency or country. Diplomatic and legal manoeuvrings and negotiations often appear intended to meet the practical needs of the parties involved minimizing costs, preserving options, and so forth.
Those who would defend the speaker might claim that it is idealists not pragmatists who sway the masses, incite revolutions, and make political ideology reality. Consider idealists such as the America's founders, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. Had these idealists concerned themselves with short-term survival and immediate needs rather than with their notions of an ideal society, the United States and India might still be British colonies, and African-Americans might still be relegated to the backs of buses. Although I concede this point, the plain fact is that such idealists are far fewer in number today.
On the other hand, the claim amounts to an overstatement when it comes to today's scientific endeavours. In medicine the most common procedures today are cosmetic; these procedures strike me as highly impractical, given the health risks and expense involved. Admittedly, today's digital revolution serves a host of practical concerns, such as communicating and accessing information more quickly and efficiently. Much of chemical research is also aimed at practicality at providing convenience and enhancing our immediate comfort. Yet, in many other respects scientific research is not driven toward immediate practicality but rather toward broad, long-term objectives: public health, quality of life, and environmental protection.
In sum, practicality may be our idol today when it comes to education, the arts, and politics; but with respect to science I find the claim to be an unfair generalization. Finally, query whether the claim begs the question. After all, practicality amounts to far more than meeting immediate needs; it also embraces long-term planning and prevention aimed at ensuring our future quality of life, and our very survival as a species.
The speaker maintains that it is easy to accept innovation and new ideas, yet difficult to accept how they are put to use. In my view the speaker has it backwards when it comes to socio-political ideas, at least in our democratic society. Nevertheless, I tend to agree with the speaker insofar as scientific innovation is concerned.
In the areas of politics and law, new ideas are not often easily accepted. More often than not, the status quo affords people a measure of security and predictability in terms of what they can expect from their government and what rights and duties they have under the law. The civil rights movement of the 1960s aptly illustrates this point. The personal freedoms and rights championed by leading civil-rights leaders of that era threatened the status quo, which tolerated
discrimination based on race and gender, thereby sanctioning prejudice of all kinds. The resulting civil unrest, especially the protests and riots that characterized the late 1960s, was clear evidence that new ideas were not welcome. And today those who advocate gay and lesbian rights are encountering substantial resistance as well, this time primarily from certain religious quarters.
Yet once society grows to accept these new ideas, it seems that it has an easier time accepting how they are put into practice. The explanation for this lies in the fact that our system of laws is based on legal precedent. New ideas must past muster among the government's legislative, judicial, and executive branches, and ultimately the voters, before these ideas can be codified, implemented and enforced. Once they've passed the test of our democratic and legal systems, they are more readily welcomed by the citizenry at large.
In contrast, consider innovations in the natural sciences. It seems that we universally embrace any new technology in the name of progress. Of course there are always in formed dissenters with legitimate concerns. For example, many scientists strongly opposed the Manhattan Project, by which nuclear warfare was made possible. Innovations involving alternative energy sources meet with resistance from those who rely on and profit from fossil fuels. Some sociologists and psychologists claim that advances in Internet technology WIU alienate society's members from one another. And opponents of genetic engineering predict certain deleterious social and political consequences.
Yet the reasons why these dissenters oppose certain innovations have to do with their potential applications and uses, not with the renovations themselves. Edward Teller, the father of the atom bomb, foresaw the benefits of atomic energy, yet understood the grave consequences of applying the technology instead for destruction. Innovations involving alternative energy sources meet with resistance from many businesses because of their potential application in ways that will threaten the financial interests of these businesses. And those who would impede advances in Internet technology fear that consumers and businesses will use the technology for crass commercialism, exploitation, and white-collar crime, rather than for the sorts of educational and communication purposes for which it was originally designed. Finally, opponents of genetic engineering fear that, rather than using it to cure birth defects and prevent disease, the technology will be used instead by the wealthy elite to breed superior offspring, thereby causing society's socioeconomic gap to widen even further, even resulting in the creation of a master race.
In sum, when it comes to new social and political ideas, the power and security afforded by the status quo impedes initial acceptance, yet by the same token ensures that the ideas will be applied in ways that will be welcome by our society. On the other hand, it seems that scientific innovation is readily embraced yet meets stronger resistance when it comes to applying the innovation.
Do academic and professional success both involve surviving in a new environment and eventually changing it, as the speaker claims? Regarding academic success, in my view the speaker overstates the significance of environment. Regarding professional success the speaker's threshold claim that adaptation is necessary has considerable merit; however, the extent to which professional success also entails shaping the environment in which the professional operates depends on the type of profession under consideration.
Turning first to academic success, I concede that as students advance from grade school to high school, then to college, they must accustom themselves not just to new curricula but also to new environments comprised of campuses, classmates, teachers, and teaching methods. The last item among this list is proving particularly significant in separating successful students from less successful ones. As computers and the Internet are becoming increasing important tools for learning academic skills and for research, they are in effect transforming our learning environment at every educational level. Students who fail to adapt to this change will fred themselves falling behind the pace of their peers.
Otherwise, the speaker's prescription for academic success makes little sense. Aside from the environmental variables listed above, academia is a relatively staid environment over time. The key ingredients of academic success have always been, and will always be, a student's innate abilities and the effort the student exerts in applying those abilities to increasingly advanced course work. Besides, to assert that academic success involves changing one's environment is tantamount to requiring that students alter their school's teaching methods or physical surroundings in order to be successful students an assertion that nonsensically equates academic study with educational reform.
Turning next to professional success, consider the two traditional professions of law and medicine. A practicing lawyer must stay abreast of new developments and changes in the law, and a physician must adapt to new and improved medical devices, and keep pace with new and better ways to treat and prevent diseases. Otherwise, those professionals risk losing their competency, and even their professional licenses. However, this is not to say that success in either profession also requires that the practitioner help shape the legal, medical, technological, or ethical environment within which these professions operate. To the contrary, undue time and energy devoted to advancing the profession can diminish a practitioner's effectiveness as such. In other words, legal and medical reform is best left to former practitioners, and to legislators, jurists, scientists, and academicians. Thus the speaker's claim unfairly overrates the ability to change one's professional environment as a key ingredient of professional success.
In contrast, when it comes to certain other professions, such as business and scientific research, the speaker's claim is far more compelling. Our most successful business leaders are not those who merely maximize shareholder profits, but rather those who envision a lasting contribution to the business environment and to society, and realize that vision. The industrial barons and information-age visionaries of the late 19th and 20th Centuries, respectively, did not merely adapt to the winds of business and technological change imposed upon them. They altered the direction of those winds, and to some extent were the fans that blew those winds. Similarly, ultimate success in scientific research lies not in reacting to new environments but in shaping future ones by preventing disease, inventing products that transform the ways in which we live and work, and so forth. Perhaps the most apt example is the field of space exploration, which has nothing to do with adapting to new environments, and everything to do with discovering them and making them available to us in the first place.
To sum up, the speaker's daim has merit insofar as any individual must adapt to new environments to progress in life and to survive in a dynamic, ever-changing world. However, the speaker's sweeping definition of success overlooks certain crucial distinctions between academics and the professions, and between some professions and others.
I strongly disagree with this statement, on two counts. First, in my observation art embraces the current state of science and technology more often than it rejects or opposes it. More significantly, however, I find the speaker's suggestion that the function of art relates to science and technology to be misguided.
In general, it would appear that art is more likely motivated by an interest in keeping pace with science and technology than by a desire to break from it. Particularly in architecture, where engineering is part-and-parcel of the art, new creations take full advantage of new technologies.
For example, the burgeoning sted industry of the Industrial Age made possible for the first time the erection of skyscrapers. And rather than avoiding the technology, architects embraced it. But did the artists who designed our modern office buildings view their "function" as keeping pace with technology? Probably not. Instead, the technology simply provided a larger canvas and an expanded array of tools with which to create their art. Admittedly, the arts-and-crafts architectural movement during the late 19th Century was a conscious reaction to the Industrial Age's influence on architectural processes and materials, as well as the overly ornate Victorian style. However, this break from technology is the historical exception to the rule. Besides, Frank Lloyd Wright, who championed the arts-and-crafts style during the first half of the 20th Century, eagerly exploited many of the building materials and engineering processes which new technology offered at the time. Eagerness among artists to embrace new technology, as opposed to providing an escape from it, is not limited to architecture. Much of modem abstract painting seems to convey a boldness and daring that characterizes modern technological progress.
And in contemporary sculpture one finds the widespread use of the new materials of modern chemistry-from plastics to synthetic fabrics. Again, however, to suggest that the "function" of modern abstract art or contemporary sculpture is to keep pace with science seems wrongheaded. It makes far more sense to view the relationship between art and science as one in which the technologies are tools which artists use to augment their palettes.
Admittedly, some works of art would appear to reject, or at least provide a respite from, science and technology. One example is the modern minimalist movement, which one might interpret as a reaction against, or a break from, the increasingly complex modern industrial age. However, I am hard-pressed to think of any other significant art form or movement that clearly seemed motivated by a desire to break free of science and technology.
Moreover, the speaker's concern for whether art's function is to embrace or oppose science and technology begs the question, for the final objective of art lies instead in its ability to convey a society's values, ideals, and concerns. The pyramids and obelisks of the ancient world, as well as the great cathedrals of Renaissance Europe, including the murals and sculptures in and around them, reflected a societal preoccupation with transcending the human condition. During the Medieval period the most important architectural form was the castle, which reflected an overriding concern for military security during a time of relative anarchy. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, an emerging genteel upper-middle class saw itself reflected in the bourgeois themes of impressionists such as Renoir and Monet. The machine-tooled art deco style of the early 20th Century reflected industrial society's penchant for technological progress, while modern abstract art mirrors the frenetic world that has resulted from that progress.
In sum, while I agree that art is indeed influenced by science and technology, this influence is mainly in the materials and processes that science makes available to the artist. The final objective of art, far from having any beating on science or technology perceived, is to hold a mirror up to the society in which the artist operates.
The speaker asserts that using public resources to support the arts is unjustifiable in a society where some people go without food, jobs, and basic survival skills. It might be tempting to agree with the speaker on the basis that art is not a fundamental human need, and that government is not entirely trustworthy when it comes to its motives and methods. However, the speaker overlooks certain economic and other societal benefits that accrue when government assumes an active role in supporting the arts.
The implicit rationale behind the speaker's statement seems to be that cultural enrichment pales in importance compared to food, clothing, and shelter. That the latter needs are more fundamental is indisputable; after all, what starving person would prefer a good painting to even a bad meal? Accordingly, I concede that when it comes to the use of public resources it is entirely appropriate to assign a lower priority to the arts than to these other pressing social problems. Yet, to postpone public arts funding until we completely eliminate unemployment and hunger would be to postpone arts funding forever; any informed person who believes otherwise is envisioning a pure socialist state where the government provides for all of its citizens' needs-a vision which amounts to fantasy.
It might also be tempting to agree with the speaker on the basis that arts patronage is neither an appropriate nor a necessary function of government. This argument has considerable merit, in three respects. First, it seems ill-conceived to relegate decision and choices about arts funding to a handful of bureaucrats, who are likely to decide based on their own quirky notions about art, and whose decisions might be susceptible to influence-peddling. Second, private charity and philanthropy appear to be alive and well today. For example, year after year the Public Broadcasting System is able to survive, and even thrive, on donations from private foundations and individuals. Third, government funding requires tax dollars from our pockets leaving us with less disposable dollars with which to support the arts directly and more efficiently than any bureaucracy ever could.
On the other hand are two compelling arguments that public support for the arts is desirable, whether or not unemployment and hunger have been eliminated. One such argument is that by allocating public resources to the arts we actually help to solve these social problems. Consider Canada's film industry, which is heavily subsidized by the Canadian government, and which provides countless jobs for film-industry workers as a result. The Canadian government also provides various incentives for American production companies to function and produce their movies in Canada. These incentives have sparked a boon for the Canadian economy, thereby stimulating job growth and wealth that can be applied toward education, job training, and social programs. The Canadian example is proof that public arts support can help solve the kinds of social problems with which the speaker is concerned.
A second argument against the speaker's position has to do with the function and ultimate objectives of art. Art serves to lift the human spirit and to put us more in touch with our feelings, foibles, and fate in short, with our own humanity. With a heightened sensitivity to the human condition, we become more others-oriented, less self-centred, more giving of ourselves. In other words, we become a more charitable society more willing to give to those less fortunate than ourselves in the ways with which the speaker is concerned. The speaker might argue, of course, that we do a disservice to others when we lend a helping hand by enabling them to depend on us to survive. However, at the heart of this specious argument lies a certain coldness and lack of compassion that, in my view, any society should seek to discourage. Besides, the argument leads inexorably to certain political, philosophical, and moral issues that this brief essay cannot begin to address.
In the final analysis, the beneficiaries of public arts funding are not limited to the elitists who stroll through big-city museums and attend symphonies and gallery openings, as the speaker might have us believe. Public resources allocated to the arts create jobs for artists and others whose livelihood depends on a vibrant, rich culture just the sort of culture that breeds charitable concern for the hungry, the helpless, and the hapless.
Should educators focus equally on enriching students' personal lives and on job preparation, as the speaker contends? In my view, preparing students for the mundane aspects of work should be secondary to providing a broader education that equips students with historical and cultural perspective, as well as thoughtful and principled personal value systems and priorities. Paradoxically, it is through the liberal studies, which provide these forms of personal enrichment, that students can also best prepare for the world of work.
One reason why educators should emphasize personal enrichment over job preparation is that rote technical knowledge and skill do not help a student determine which goals in life are worthwhile and whether the means of attaining those goals are ethically or morally acceptable. Liberal studies such as philosophy, history, and comparative sociology enable students to develop thoughtful and consistent value systems and ethical standards, by which students can determine how they can best put their technical knowledge and skills to use in the working world. Thus, by nurturing the development of thoughtful personal value systems, educators actually help prepare students for their jobs and careers.
Another reason why educators should emphasize personal enrichment over job preparation is that specific knowledge and skills needed for jobs are changing more and more quickly. Thus it would be a waste of our education system to focus on specific knowledge and skills that will soon become obsolete at the expense of providing a lasting and personally satisfying educational experience. It seems more appropriate today for employers to provide the training our work force needs to perform their jobs, freeing up our educators to help enrich students' lives in ways that will serve them in any walk of life.
A third reason why educators should emphasize personally enriching course work particularly anthropology, sociology, history, and political philosophy-is that these courses help students understand, appreciate, and respect other people and their viewpoints. As these students grow into working adults they will be better able to cooperate, compromise, understand various viewpoints, and appreciate the rights and duties of coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates. Rote technical knowledge and skill do little to help us get along with other people.
Admittedly, certain aspects of personal enrichment, especially spirituality and religion, should be left for parents and churches to provide; after all, by advocating teachings of any particular religion, public educators undermine our basic freedom of religion. Yet it is perfectly appropriate, and useful, to inform students about various religious beliefs, customs and institutions. Learning about different religions instils respect, tolerance, and understanding. Moreover, students grow to appreciate certain fundamental virtues, such as compassion, virtue, and humility, which all major religions share. Through this appreciation students grow into adults who can work well together toward mutually agreed-upon goals.
In sum, it is chiefly through the more personally enriching Liberal studies that educators help students fully blossom into well-rounded adults and successful workers. There will always be a need to train people for specific jobs, of course. However, since knowledge is advancing so rapidly, employers and job-training programs are better equipped to provide this function, leaving formal educators free to provide a broader, more personally enriching education that will serve students throughout their lives and in any job or career.
Whether technology enhances or diminishes our overall quality of life depends largely on the type of technology one is considering. While mechanical automation may have diminished our quality of life on balance, digital automation is doing more to improve life than to undermine its quality.
First consider mechanical automation, particularly assembly-line manufacturing. With automation came a loss of pride in and alienation from one's work. In this sense, automation both diminished our quality of life and rendered us slaves to machines in our inability to reverse "progress." Admittedly, mechanical automation spawned entire industries, creating jobs, stimulating economic growth, and supplying a plethora of innovative conveniences. Nevertheless, the sociological and environmental price of progress may have outweighed its benefits.
Next consider digital technology. Admittedly, this newer form of technology has brought its own brand of alienation, and has adversely affected our quality of life in other ways as well. For example, computer automation, and especially the Internet, breeds information overload and steals our time and attention away from family, community, and co-workers. In these respects, digital technology tends to diminish our quality of life and create its own legion of human slaves.
On the other hand, by relegating repetitive tasks to computers, digital technology has spawned great advances in medicine and physics, helping us to better understand the world, to enhance our health, and to prolong our lives. Digital automation has also emancipated architects, artists, designers, and musicians, by expanding creative possibilities and by saving time. Perhaps most important, however, information technology makes possible universal access to information, thereby providing a democratizing influence on our cultul:e.
In sum, while mechanical automation may have created a society of slaves to modern conveniences and unfulfilling work, digital automation holds more promise for improving our lives without enslaving us to the technology.