The Deep Problem Techno-Optimism Doesn’t Want You To See

Alex Turner
8 min readNov 24, 2021
Photo by Vivek K on Unsplash

Imagine this: it’s the 1950s, you’re on your way up in the world, and you’ve won a prize. You get a choice between two: a cabin on an island, or a fancy, new-fangled dishwasher.

I like to think I’d choose a cabin by the sea any day of the week. But that’s me in 2021, when land is expensive and limited, much like my time — but technology is cheap and no longer novel. Back then, what would I have chosen? Household convenience, or an inconvenient household?

In The Cabin in the Mountains, author Robert Ferguson recounts this exact story of a friend whose great aunt in the end chose the dishwasher. She chose an up and coming tech solution for her family, a “labor-saving” step forwards, rather than what she perceived as a step back, an “infrequently used liability.” As the author reflects, that liability is worth millions today.

This story illustrates just how much life, and our values, have changed in a short space of time. Technology is more accessible and it races ever forward. So now let’s look forward too — to imagine the future.

It’s 2070. Autonomous electric vehicles are everywhere, including in the skies. Most homes have a charger point and are hyperconnected to their communities through renewable energy microgrids. We don’t need dishwashers anymore — our crockery sets, like our clothes and even our homes, are mycelium based: self healing and self cleaning, easily regenerated. Urban food forests feed us — and also keep us cool. Blockchain eliminated slavery from our supply chains. Solar arrays give us power, and huge direct carbon capture arrays suck CO2 from the atmosphere. Giant ocean clean up arrays mean that our seas are finally plastic free. Our clever deployment of technology delivered us our goal: net zero. Humanity is saved.

Three cheers for us! Hurrah!

It’s the techno-optimist dream.

Techno-optimists will have you believe that technological ingenuity and progress will save us, and we all just better get on board. It’s Elon Musk asking his Tesla shareholders, “Would I be doing this if I wasn’t optimistic?” — while he simultaneously plots his escape to…

Alex Turner

Founder, feminist, entrepreneur, coffee + self care