Narcissistic technophilia.

Technophilia is described in various sources as a strong enthusiasm for technology.

But what many of our species display goes far beyond enthusiasm.

We see starry-eyed technophiles going on about a “rainbow” of opportunities apparently afforded us by our technologies, caught up in what appears to be near-religious rapture and hyperbole. All the while, they blindly ignore the fact that the horrendous problems we face were created and enabled by technologies in the first place – dead zones and enormous “islands” of plastic in the oceans, soil depletion and exhaustion, massive consumption of resources, emissions and air pollution, hundreds of sites in North America contaminated by radioactive waste, and the list just goes on and on.

The last item above is a typical illustration. Nuclear power, originally hyped as being safe and "too cheap to meter," is still heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and is still creating problems for present and future generations to deal with. Recent disasters aside, there are tonnes of “legacy” waste we have yet to deal with properly, as well as the increasing contamination of the Great Lakes by radionuclides from mining and power generating activities.

Yet we delude ourselves, as Neil Postman says in “Technopoly,” with “the catastrophic idea that in peace as well as in war technology will be our saviour.” Postman goes on to say that technophiles “gaze on technology as a lover does on his beloved, seeing it as without blemish and entertaining no apprehension for the future.”

And we have already demonstrated clearly that we are a clever little species when it comes to inventing things, but have a very poor record in predicting the long term consequences, let alone the unintended consequences.  We, in Einstein’s words, “thoughtlessly make use of the miracles of science and technology, without understanding more about them than a cow eating plants understands about botany.”

In a lovely little act of anthropocentric circular reasoning, we claim that human cleverness and intelligence are the main criteria for the job of planetary stewards, then claim that, gosh, we’re the only species which exhibits those qualities (apparently) so we must be the natural stewards of this planet. We fake the qualifications for the job in our favour. And not only that, then our performance on the job is so dismal that we should have been fired long ago. We are, after all, the only species to bring the planet to the brink of nuclear winter, runaway climate change, and collapse of ecosystem supports necessary for our own life. We are the only species to spread toxic and persistent poisons around the entire planet.

Technophiles might argue that it is not technology, but the inappropriate use which is the real problem. The evidence shows, though, the problem runs much deeper than that.

Yet all we hear about is more technology as the solution to our problems – the sort of thinking from the past that has created our problems in the first place. Solar panels will be our saviour. Wind power will be our saviour. Better fuel efficiency in transportation will be our saviour. Recycling will save the planet. And so on.

Another quotation often attributed to Einstein sums it up nicely: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” We must move beyond our obsession and infatuation with our own technologies, and beyond the idea that our role on this planet is one of stewardship and control. We must, in Lovelock’s words, “realize more than other green thinkers the magnitude of the change of mind needed to bring us back to peace within Gaia, the living Earth.” We must plan and execute a “sustainable retreat” from where we are.

Overcoming our own smugness and arrogance about our cleverness and about our place on this planet – overcoming our narcissistic technophilia - would be good first steps.