Maybe it's all Okay? A Refreshing View on Technology


Lewis: You have a different take on the danger of personal electronics and social media than some people, like the MIT professor Sherry Turkle or those behind the documentary Screenagers. There’s all this fear around the addictive nature of technology and its impact on brain development and empathy in children. Can you explain why you’re so sanguine?

Gopnik: The first thing to say is we don’t know what the effects of new technology are going to be and we won’t until the current generation of children are grown up.

Generational changes in technology: That’s what it means to be human. Each generation of children takes the knowledge, takes the tools their parents had, and changes, adopts them, develops a new set. If you’re on one side of that technological change, the changes that happened before you were born always seem like they’re just nature. If you’re in the midst of the technological change it always seems that the new thing is threatening and disruptive and dangerous.

The day before you were born always looks like Eden, and the day after your children were born always looks like Mad Max.

Each time in human history we have the same story: People are scared and panicked and worried about the new technology. They’re right—the new technology, in some ways it does change people. The technology of reading made people more isolated, less collective. The technology of train meant people moved faster, and they were less integrated into their local communities. The technology of the internet is also changing the way people interact. We have no guarantee that the future is going to be like the past. But the general picture is that the new technology’s advantages have outweighed their disadvantages.