第三类题材 Science & Technology

  Issue 30

  "The primary goal of technological advancement should be to increase people's efficiency so that everyone has more leisure time."

  The speaker contends that technology's primary goal should be to increase our efficiency for the purpose of affording us more leisure time. I concede that technology has enhanced our efficiency as we go about our everyday lives. Productivity software helps us plan and coordinate projects; intranets, the Internet, and satellite technology make us more efficient messengers; and technology even helps us prepare our food and access entertainment more efficiently. Beyond this concession, however, I find the speaker's contention indefensible from both an empirical and a normative standpoint.

  The chief reason for my disagreement lies in the empirical proof: with technological advancement comes diminished leisure time. In 1960 the average U.S. family included only one breadwinner, who worked just over 40 hours per week. Since then the average work week has increased steadily to nearly 60 hours today; and in most families there are now two breadwinners. What explains this decline in leisure despite increasing efficiency that new technologies have brought about? I contend that technology itself is the culprit behind the decline. We use the additional free time that technology affords us not for leisure but rather for work. As computer technology enables greater and greater office productivity it also raises our employers' expectations--or demands--for production. Further technological advances breed still greater efficiency and, in turn, expectations. Our spiraling work load is only exacerbated by the competitive business environment in which nearly all of us work today. Moreover, every technological advance demands our time and attention in order to learn how to use the new technology. Time devoted to keeping pace with technology depletes time for leisure activities.

  I disagree with the speaker for another reason as well: the suggestion that technology's chief goal should be to facilitate leisure is simply wrongheaded. There are far more vital concerns that technology can and should address. Advances in bio-technology can help cure and prevent diseases; advances in medical technology can allow for safer, less invasive diagnosis and treatment; advances in genetics can help prevent birth defects; advances in engineering and chemistry can improve the structural integrity of our buildings, roads, bridges and vehicles; information technology enables education while communication technology facilitates global participation in the democratic process. In short, health, safety, education, and freedom--and not leisure--are the proper final objectives of technology. Admittedly, advances in these areas sometimes involve improved efficiency; yet efficiency is merely a means to these more important ends.

  In sum, I find indefensible the speaker's suggestion that technology's value lies chiefly in the efficiency and resulting leisure time it can afford us. The suggestion runs contrary to the overwhelming evidence that technology diminishes leisure time, and it wrongly places leisure ahead of goals such as health, safety, education, and freedom as technology's ultimate aims.