As humans have evolved, so has their technology. From the first rock arrowheads to globe-spanning communications networks, humans have attempted to use technology to improve the length and quality of life. Yet, while technology has produced an enormous number of benefits for mankind, it has been responsible for a number of pernicious effects as well.
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In the 20th century alone, the average lifespan of a human has increased dramatically, particularly in wealthier, more industrialised nations. This is due primarily to technology. With new agricultural methods and equipment, the world is able to produce more food with less work at a cheaper price. With better medicines and more effective treatments, people can survive diseases that would have once easily killed them.
An era beginning in the late 20th century has already been dubbed by some historians as "the information age". Improvement in communications technology, beginning with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and continuing up through the proliferation of the Internet in the 1990s, has allowed more people access to an amount of information that would have once been impossible. It helps them to become better educated and more informed.
While technology has greatly improved the overall health of humankind, it has also afforded it the means to kill more people in a shorter period of time than was once possible. Although the ultimate usefulness of nuclear weapons is a matter of ongoing debate, they do, for the first time in history, provide humans with the means of bringing themselves to a rapid extinction.
Although the proliferation of communications technology has made it easier than to ever to have a conversation with or write a letter to another person, it has also rendered us more isolated. Computers have significantly reduced the amount of face-to-face interaction people once enjoyed. In place of the richness of human contact, many now settle for the comparatively pale pleasures of computer social networking.
Princeton professor Edward Tenner, the author of "Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences," argues that new technology brings with it a number of unpredictable side effects, some of which are good and some of which are bad. For example, when asbestos was introduced, it was touted an important technological development in fire safety. Decades after it was introduced, however, people learnt that exposure to certain types of the substance could cause chronic health problems.
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