Picture this: You meet an old friend to catch up over coffee. The two of you have a good friendship and keep up with each other’s work and family life. Your friend works for a pharmaceutical company, and she excitedly tells you (off the record) about a new pill under development. The pill enhances all aspects of the human brain, she claims. It makes you smarter, faster, more efficient, and harder working. They haven’t released it yet, but she happens to have some samples and wants to share with you.
What’s your next move? Of course you feel thrilled about its effects–who wouldn’t want to benefit from an immediate boost in mental ability. Just think of the potentials: success in the workplace, great achievements, higher income, positions of power…
So do you take it? It may be tempting. Or do you first ask the next logical question–what are the side effects? Your friend tells you that they don’t know yet, it’s still too early on in the trial process to determine.
Will you take the mystery pill anyways, thinking that the benefit outweighs the risks? Or do you approach it cautiously, waiting until they complete the study and analyze the long term effects? Being a cautious, savvy consumer, you decide that taking an unknown pill is not worth the risks, and you tell your friend to let you know how the trials turn out first.
Let’s twist the scenario a little. Instead of going through the standard rigorous safety trials, the pharmaceutical company releases the pill as an over-the-counter supplement. They produce millions of bottles, touting this pill as the solution to all our problems. The bottles fly off the shelves! Within a few months, almost every American has started using it, enjoying the many benefits. Within a year or two it has been adopted as a standard part of our culture, and yet no safety study was conducted– no one has put in the time or money to look at its effects.
In the first story, we took a cautious approach. A rigorous system was in place to make sure the product was safe before being released to consumers. In the latter scenario, there was no such system. We blindly began consuming something that we knew very little about, with complete disregard for its effects on our health and society.
The latter scenario describes how we have embraced technology in the 21st century. Technology has revolutionized how we communicate, how we work, how we learn; very few aspects of our lives have been unaffected by it. The purpose of this blog is not to unilaterally condemn modern technology. It would be short-sighted to ignore the many benefits of it, the many lives that have been improved or even saved by it. The purpose of this blog is to perform the function that safety trials provide in medicine. We must look critically at how technology affects us. What are its side effects? How are our lives being changed, both positively and negatively, by these products that we are consuming? That is our purpose here, to turn a critical eye on the 21st century technological advances that have become so prevalent in our lives.