bicyclist riding through city square
PHOTO: Simon Middleton

The history of technology is about extending and replacing human energy. We are at a point now where increasing amounts of our energy are going to waste because we are using technology out of convenience and laziness rather than for productive motives. The consequences for ourselves and for our planet are dire.

There is no more positive sign that we are learning important lessons from this terrible pandemic than the bicycle boom. Before the pandemic we were facing a global obesity pandemic because people were eating far too much technologically processed food and not using the energy generated by that food. Unused human energy is stored as fat.

Technology has made us lazy. Why exactly do people buy smart speakers? Because they’re lazy. We can’t be bothered to get up and switch the light off. We can’t be bothered to think, to calculate in our heads. Slowly, modern technology is weakening and infantilizing us. If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you don’t use your memory, you lose it. If you don’t use your muscles, you lose them. The only thing you gain is unhealthy weight.

Think of the amount of energy and waste required to get a smart speaker to turn the light off. The wasted energy in our bodies that could have been used to get up and walking over to the switch makes us unhealthy and sick.

Food production is estimated to cause 25% of global CO2 emissions per year. One-third of food is thrown away as waste. How much of the rest that we actually eat ends up being wasted because we didn’t use it productively?

It is not a surprise that the explosion in CO2 emissions began in the '70s at the very same moment we had the explosion in the computer industry, and at the same time as the great decline in human productivity began. For thousands of years, technology made us more productive. Modern technology is making us less productive, less healthy, less wealthy and less wise.

Oh yes, we hear about how smartphones are allowing us to track ourselves as we run. And? We can’t even walk, run or cycle anymore without bringing technology with us. We can’t do the necessary burning of our own energy that we’ve already consumed at a major cost to the earth without consuming more of the earth’s precious resources by having a gadget along with us for the ride. And this, we are told, is progress.

As the internet goes QAnon, as the world burns, as the virus rages, Silicon Valley boasts about all the magical, wonderful progress it is delivering. Would the world be better or worse off if we shut off all social media? One of the reasons COVID-19 has raged so strongly is that technology has been used to hollow out the public space so as to allow for the private squares run by Facebook, Apple, Google, et al. Listen closely. Do you hear that great sucking sound caused by technology? It’s the sound of Zuckerberg and Bezos sucking up even more wealth.

Burn your own energy. It will be good for you and good for the planet. And it will also be a form of resistance.