It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
— Charles Dickens (1859), A Tale of Two Cities
What Charles Dickens wrote 150 years ago before and during the French Revolution rings eerily familiar today. The upper classes in the US today have never had it better: health, comfort, and convenience like no other time in history. Yet, at the other end of society lies a rising tide of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness.
What contributes to peoples’ health and well-being, and why are we simultaneously experiencing such highs and lows in society today?
Technology has enabled people to amass wealth like never before. Advances in communication and transportation technologies in particular have given us access to whole new markets that have rained untold wealth on those who have been able to master them.
Yet, technological avenues to amassing wealth require access to resources, information, and expertise that are not accessible to many people in today’s society.
There’s more. Technology is a tool. It can be used either to the benefit or to the detriment of select individuals and, more broadly, of society as a whole. Plenty of technologies have been developed and used to increase social well-being overall. These are positive-sum uses of technology, and they should be applauded. Unfortunately, plenty of other technologies have been developed and used to promote the well-being of some, but at the greater expense of others, leading to losses in social well-being overall. There are zero-sum or negative-sum uses of technology.