The Role of Technology
Technology helped get us here, but it can also help get us out.
While technology has changed the lives of billions for the better, it has ALSO been our handmaiden on the road to planetary depletion. How so? It enables our desire to consume.
Our voracious desire to consume is met by the streamlined supply chains enabled by big data and technology. This desire has been further fueled by social media, the farthest-reaching medium for advertising and mass sharing with 3.6 billion users. The most widely followed social media accounts belong to those with lavish lifestyles. And we want to follow them.
According to the mimetic theory of desire, we want what others want. If we’re always looking to the wealthy as role models, the “vertical emulation process” suggests that we aspire to consume like them. And the affluent are the worst offenders when it comes to planetary damage.
But just as we have used technology to harm the environment, so can we can also use technology to enable behavioral solutions. Rather than traveling for work meetings, companies could use Zoom; rather than physically attending a community college for a course on accounting, you could take it on Coursera; rather than physically sending your child to a video editing or fiction novel class, you could enroll them in Skillshare.
These may seem obvious and almost trivial, but using technology to change norms can significantly reduce carbon emissions. When physically attending a meeting that requires air travel, for instance, you contribute around 100 times more carbon emissions than if you had the meeting online.
Physically attending meetings or classes has been the norm, but norms are not fixed in stone — they are, well, just norms! Norms can be changed for the better (of the planet); and technology can now help us move more towards behaviors that are planet-friendly.