Technology’s Shadow

How exactly does one “balance” technology? What is there to balance? More importantly, what would one even balance against? As a man of rigor, I performed an exhaustive, five minute scouring of the internet and as far as I can tell, there is no antonym for the word “technology”…and that’s just weird. If we trust the ol’ Oxford English (which, of course we do) technology is defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.”
I know…this feels like the start of a terrible high school humanities essay, but bear with me.
In the absence of a proper yin to technology’s yang, it can be helpful to break things down and study from the ground up. At a glance, this definition seems quite innocuous – we conjure images of early man bashing a wheel onto a cart or using fire to cook meat. Technology is our friend. Technology has made our lives easier. Technology has saved us all.
However, if we read the above definition closely, cross our eyes, hop on one foot, rub our bellies, pat our heads and let the gravity of these words sink in, we begin to visualize the grossly intimidating breadth of this word. From the tiniest microchip to the largest building, the fastest rocket to the slowest-motion camera, technology is no longer our harmless, quaint little friend; it has evolved into an intricate beast the likes of which no single human can comprehend in its entirety. Hundreds of years ago, technological innovators were diverse individuals who were able to span a number of different disciplines and create new discoveries from the comfort of their bathtubs. These days, the bleeding edge of most technological pursuits exists in state-of-the-art laboratories and the minds of only the top scholars in the world. Breakthroughs have dropped from the realm of popular noteworthiness because the common person can no longer comprehend the development of modern technology let alone play a role in it.
Dare I be so bold as to say that in this day and age, it is impossible to divorce the word technology from the word complexity?
Not so say that complexity is entirely a bad thing, however, it muddles the value of our scientific progress and makes advancements increasingly difficult for businesses to grasp and apply to their products. Yes, businesses can hire these top scholars to push the envelope of technological progress, however, until we also have applied design minds to understand the core value of scientific advancement, we stand to lose much of that value in translation to a consumer product.
While historically, technology has led to massive breakthroughs and steps forward in our societal and economic progress, recent years have felt a lot more like we’ve just been spinning our wheels. Granted this is a massive oversimplification of a complex ecosystem of gadgets, organizations and people, however, countless businesses seem to waste inordinate amounts of time and effort forcing cutting-edge technology into their products without first properly considering their end goal.
The hypocrisy of an individual such as myself – a former robotics engineer, gadget junkie and proud owner of more pieces of computational doohickery than I care to even count let alone admit to – writing this article is not lost on me. You may question the origins of this luddite-esque heresy. In fact, this rant is brought to you by one of the most important adages for all designers and engineers such as myself: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). A true designer knows the value of minimizing complication for the end-user and in a world where technology is increasingly becoming defined by complexity, the antonym to technology may just be simplicity.
This article is far from a cry to put a halt to the exploration and advancement of academic institutions and research labs around the world – those crazy technocrats may continue to lick batteries to their hearts content and concoct a world of increasingly superior mouse traps. However, to the designers and product developers of the world: get your heads out of your asses. The value of your work is defined not by your ability to incorporate the greatest amount of next-gen tech into your designs but instead by your ability to keep things simple enough for people to actually understand how to use it.