Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology says “Technology is neither good, nor bad; nor is it neutral.” What he means by this is that the degree of goodness of technology depends on its context. As an example, he discusses the employment of DDT. For Western, industrialized civilizations the damage that DDT did to ecological systems outweighed its benefit as an insecticide. Conversely, India, not having the technological means to keep productivity levels high without it, viewed DDT as their best, and therefore a good option. Context in this specific situation seems to refer to developmental status and overall wealth. Other contextual factors that affect the way technology is perceived could include geography, moral views or governmental policy. Each could lead to many varied opinions forming around the same technology.
Lisa Ruth Rand addressed a similar topic in her lecture “It Came from Outer Space: Solar Weather, Space Junk and Environmental Disaster During the Cold Wars.” She discussed how the perception of technology can depend heavily on perspective. In the same way as Kranzberg, Rand suggests that different views may formulate around specific technological situations. As Rand discussed the Kosmos 954 satellite, she explained that a leap forwards in space technology was for some Canadian citizens viewed almost as a catastrophe. Geographically speaking, the landing of the reentering satellite threatened a whole ecosystem and its inhabitants. This is however only local damage, and seemed nearly irrelevant to the Russians who launched it. As Rand explained the lack of communication between officials and locals, she dove into the context of education and status. She described the disconnect as a need for translation that left locals terrified of “hair loss” and fish tainted by radiation while the government portrayed it as a non-issue. These two perspectives initially seem to be confidence in technology versus fear of technology, which could then simplify to good versus bad technology and support Kranzberg in being neither one nor the other.
But is it really the technology that is neither good nor bad? Can technology on its own be deemed even partially good, bad or neutral? In Kranzberg’s explanation of his laws, he references Lynn White Jr. who says that technology “‘merely opens a door, it does not compel one to enter.’” When put in parallel with Lisa Ruth Rand’s final question of what is at fault for space junk on earth, the finger begins to turn away from technology and towards the users.
No technological device chose to simply go out and spread radiation on its own. None chose to kill insects rather than ecosystems. It is the people who designed them, and people who made the decisions of how to use them. In his discussion surrounding the layers of technology, Dr. Fleming highlighted the uselessness of technology without the understanding of how to use it. Furthermore is the need for a purpose, or intention of what to use technology for–without which it has no function.
In “Technology Matters” David E. Nye explains Francis Bacon’s description of technology as having “no sinister side effects.” Was he wrong? Did DDT intentionally damage ecosystems? Is the Kosmos 945 Satellite at fault for falling where it did? Or did the choices people made lead to these situations? People choose to launch things into space knowing very well that they might come back down. People choose what kind of pesticide to use. These decisions were, and are continuously based on geography, wealth, status, political views and morals, but they are nonetheless decisions made by people. And so I argue that technology can never be deemed good, nor bad, nor neutral, because it should not get the credit, nor the blame.