Copyright 1995 Omaha World-Herald Company
Omaha World Herald
May 14, 1995 Sunday SUNRISE EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. 20A
LENGTH: 606 words
HEADLINE: Technophobia Taken to Deadly Extreme
Recent letters from the so-called Unabomber indicate that he fancies himself an anarchist. Hence, some self-styled anarchists have been given the opportunity to publicly air their cockamamie notions about modern technology.
The Unabomber is said to be responsible for a string of bombs sent by mail during the past 16 years that have killed at least three people and injured 23. Only recently has the bomber sent letters giving authorities clues to his possible motives.
One letter calls for "destruction of the worldwide industrial system" and includes the statement, "We call ourselves anarchists." That reference has given people such as John Zerzan a moment in the spotlight.
A recent New York Times story called Zerzan "a leading pamphleteer and self-described anarchist and technophobe who has become a guru of sorts for anti-technology leftists." "A lot of anarchists have no beef whatsoever with technology," Zerzan said. "They would just like to see a world in which technology serves, and so forth. Our point of view is that that's a tremendous illusion, that the impoverishment of society and the individual is just not going to be changed with modern technology. That's right at the heart of what is so chronically wrong with the fabric of society." It would be unfortunate if people such as Zerzan gave a bad name to those with legitimate, rational concerns about technology. The idea that technology may impoverish the human spirit is neither new nor foolish.
Philosophers and religious leaders, including Pope John Paul II, have raised legitimate questions about where man's reliance on technology will lead.
Unlike Zerzan, however, sensible people do not call for the wholesale elimination of technology. They do not see computers and satellites as inherently evil. But some do question the wisdom of undue reliance on technological developments.
Serious debates about technology's role have to do with whether it is being used or misused, whether people are relying upon it for the wrong things - or too many things. Ordinary people may argue that drugs are too often trusted to treat behavior problems, for example, or that it is bad to use television as a baby-sitter.
In a column on Tuesday's More Commentary page, Mark Lane wrote that the "Internet, on-line services and electronic bulletin boards are increasingly dominated by people in desperate need of stronger human attachments, better social skills and broader political outlooks." Lane dismissed the idea of "virtual community" as meaningless.
Or consider Aldous Huxley, among this century's foremost thinkers and writers when it came to concerns about his era's technology and its proper role. In the forward to his book, "Brave New World," Huxley wrote that "unless we choose to decentralize and use applied science, not as the end to which human beings are to be made the means, but the means to producing a race of free individuals," the world faces totalitarianism.
Huxley raised some dark possibilities with his visions of the future, but he obviously recognized that science and technology can be employed toward good. Modern means of communication, for instance, have made it increasingly difficult for governments to choke off the free flow of information. Witness the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Simplistic visions of technology as an evil in itself are the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theorists and misguided Utopians. The nouveau anarchists' greatest delusion may be that they represent something more than the far-out fringe.