A Newtonian-style third law for technology

Newton’s third law says that if two bodies at rest act on each other with forces, then those forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. But it occurs to me that there is a kind of analogue of Newton’s third law for technology: if technology acts to simplify some aspect of life, then that simplification will be acted on by human instinct in an opposite direction to make life more complex. For example:

  1. If technology gives you more storage space in terms of larger hard drives, then you will store more data and more complex data that will take up more of your time.
  2. Cars made getting around “easier” but then it simultaneously spurned a huge network of roads that now make life quite difficult in the sense that you can barely walk any more, and ecosystems are now being threatened.
  3. Smartphones make it easier to contact people but now the additional points of contact with semi-anonymous individuals makes life much harder to handle with the increasingly complexity of needless interactions.

Technology is part of an unfolding process that reveals new aspects of being through increasing modes of complexity. It cannot be a simplification: it only buys its way into human life through the promise of short-term simplification, but this third law states that the simplification is an illusion. In terms of simple tools, the complexity may have been enough for us to handle with our brains, but with modern technology, the complexity has gone beyond our abilities and is out of control, threatening to destroy the biosphere and climate.


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