This also has been true throughout recorded history but, like other aspects of technological progress, it exploded after the Industrial Revolution (Evans, 2004).
Human warfare became much more deadly during the late 19th century when progress in explosives, metallurgy, and industrial processes allowed the development of giant cannons, artillery, and naval guns with tremendous destructive potential (Evans, 2004). By the end of World War I, mechanized weapons such as the machine gun and the battle tank had revolutionized the entire concept of warfare. During the rest of the 20th century, modern industrial methods and production capacity (propelled by another major global war) allowed the development of a simple aircraft powered by a bicycle foot pedal into supersonic aircraft within half a century (Evans, 2004). Ironically, medical technology also tends to accelerate during wartime, driven by the need to treat traumatic injuries and prevent infection (Evans, 2004).
Peacetime industrial progress also sometimes came at a price. The Industrial Revolution resulted in rampant child exploitation in late 18th and early 20th centuries, particularly in textile factories (Evans, 2004). Air pollution and solid industrial waste became major health concerns, and unsafe working conditions sometimes cost the lives of hundreds of workers at a time, such as in New York at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911. Bridges sometimes failed and damns collapsed occasionally, even wiping out entire towns (Evans, 2004).
Even today, some of the same advances that we consider indispensable (such as cellular phones) sometimes are the primary causes of tragedy. Cell phone use and texting present a serious risk to driving safety, even causing death regularly enough to have resulted in legislative changes to prohibit use while driving in many states (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 2005). In other respects, cell phones have become just the latest example of how modern technological progress can also become a nuisance (Wolff, 2007). On the other hand, the availability of affordable cell phones may eventually help end global poverty (Schwarz, 2007). Likewise, for all their benefits, computers have also made possible computer crimes, identity theft, and privacy invasion. Ultimately, this period of human history may actually be the start of real human progress yet to come by virtue of the future of the “Digital Revolution.” Hopefully, the ability of human societies to recognize and solve problems caused by technological progress will develop at the same rate.
Evans, H. (2004). They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine
Two Centuries of Innovators New York: Little Brown & Co.
Hennessy, D.A. And Wiesenthal, D.L. (2005). Contemporary Issues in Road User
Behavior and Traffic Safety. Toronto: Nova.
Schwarz, S. “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?” The New York Times.