(P1) We live in a time of both BREATHTAKING technological surprise and UNNERVING global challenges. The result is that we are chattering away on our increasingly technologically sophisticated smart-phones, and social media platforms, about the horrors of ISIS, the UNCERTAINTIES of climate change and the prospect of robots stealing our jobs. If our innovations are so powerful, why isn’t technology solving the problems we face?

(P2) The answer is simple: People, not technology, meet challenges. Technology allows for options and opportunities, but it is how we choose to use those technologies — as individuals, communities and ultimately as a global society — that determines whether an innovation is a BOON, or a CURSE.

(P3) History offers AMPLE lessons in this regard. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of MOVABLE TYPE and the print revolution that followed ARGUABLY TOPPLED the authority of church and monarch, setting in motion events that ultimately led to the ENLIGHTENMENT and the rise of NATION-STATES.

(P4) And sometimes, the most dramatic of innovations can preserve old institutions like a FLY IN AMBER. America’s Social Security system was on the VERGE of COLLAPSE in the early 1950s, GROANING UNDER the BURDEN of paper-based accounting. The first mainframe computers arrived just in time to automate, and rescue, the system. But the system itself stayed the same: The computer automated the exact process that was done by hand. Who knows, if the computer had arrived a bit later, perhaps the government would have been forced to come up with another, more innovative approach to delivering Social Security services.

(P5) This is all to say, even the most powerful innovations are merely tools — tools we can choose to use wisely or foolishly. Television’s visionaries imagined that it would revolutionize education. Instead, we got the VAST WASTELAND of MIND-NUMBING network programming. Inexpensive digital cameras can show us the world — or become an all-seeing BIG BROTHER.

(P6) It is up to each of us to ensure that our newest innovations realize their promise of changing the world for the better. And as consumers, we vote with our dollars, and with our habits. An act as small as deciding what to click on, when combined with all the millions of other clicks streaming in, shapes how technology changes our lives as surely as the act of a single ENTREPRENEURIAL genius bent on creating the next MARVEL.

WORDS: 382



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. This article is part of a New York Times SYMPOSIUM on the topic, “Is technology creating a better world, or just making lots of money for a few people?” What do you think?
  3. What new technologies could be dangerous if MISUSED?
  4. Entrepreneur Peter Thiel says that we expected FLYING CARS but we got 140 characters (Twitter). Do you think that our new technologies are very impressive, or not really all that impressive?
  5. What new technologies do you expect to see introduced in the next 20 years?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Nation-state
  • Fly in amber
  • Groan under
  • Vast wasteland
  • Mind-numbing
  • Big Brother



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