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Is reliance on technology a barrier to behaviour change?

by Andrew Drummond

Technology’s great. It solves a lot of our problems. It’s a literal life-saver. Thanks to technology, we’re in the midst of an immunisation process that will help us move past a global pandemic, for instance.

We’re exposed to an oversaturation of new and exciting technological good-news stories, but with very little continuation and follow-up exploring how these same stories pan out.

For example, you may have heard that ‘Bill Gates is planning to cool the Earth using chalk dust’. What you may not have heard, is that this will no longer be going ahead as planned following pressure from environmental groups and indigenous people in Sweden where the planned tests were to take place. When googling this story, I found no mention that the test was no longer going ahead as planned until the second page of search results.

So it should come as no surprise that for many of us, the reliance on technology has transformed into a belief in technology as our saviour: a mindset that technology can and will solve all our problems.

There is logic there; it’s a progression of thought that makes a lot of sense, especially given the stories we like to tell each other. Technology has saved us before, it will save us again. But this thinking leads us to minimise threat warnings such as the climate emergency.

Technological solutionism

According to studies into normalcy bias, about 70% of people reportedly do not adequately prepare for problems like natural disasters. And it’s easy to see how this mindset of so-called technological solutionism could be contributing to that. After all, “if technology will save us, why should I change what I’m doing?” Of course, when we take a step back to think about it, that’s a big ‘if’. And that makes technological solutionism dangerous.

If we’re using good news to reason ourselves out of individual action, is there not a responsibility amongst storytellers to tell the whole story? The continued story? To discuss failures and shortcomings as loudly as hope?

Maybe instead of technology, we should be placing our faith in, and celebrating, something that we have a little more control over: ourselves, our choices and our behaviours.

Solving the puzzle

It’s a complex problem, and there are no catch-all answers. When it comes to adopting and encouraging climate-positive behaviours, we all have our own interconnected puzzles, the solutions to which are heavily context-dependent. Technological solutionism is just a small puzzle piece, but one that’s increasingly significant.

If you want help figuring out how it fits into your particular puzzle, or help solving your puzzle in general, please do get in touch at hello@how-on-earth.co.uk. We’d be delighted to continue the conversation.

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