The Nature Institute

The Nature Institute 
20 May Hill Road, Ghent, New York 12075  Tel: (518) 672 0116

Home | Our Education Programs | Our Publications | Content Areas | Writings Ordered by Author | Resources and Links | Contact Us | Search

Extraordinary Lives: Disability and Destiny in a Technological Age
Stephen L. Talbott

Introduction: Finding Ourselves in a Technological World

Technology and disabilities -- bring them both to mind and the phrase "enabling technologies" will very likely occur to you. These are the technologies helping us to overcome the various "defects" afflicting human beings. From dentures to artificial limbs to eyeglasses to hearing aids, prosthetic devices have restored normalcy to millions of individuals who otherwise would face serious limitations. The ongoing battle between technical genius and the powers of death, disease, and accident has occasioned many of our greatest technological triumphs.

What is not so obvious to most people is that we also have disabling technologies -- often the same technologies we rightly think of as enabling. A device that opens up new possibilities almost certainly closes off others, even if, as a society, we are less inclined to notice the loss than the gain. Concerns about negative effects date back at least as far as Plato, who worried (with obvious justification, we now know) that the new technology of writing would tend to disable human memory, and with it all those crucial functions of a traditional society depending on memory.

In our own time, the machinery of rapid