Tech­nolo­gies which have saved lives

Bray People - - OPINION - FR BRIAN WHE­LAN

When but­ter comes out of the fridge, its rock hard, and al­most im­pos­si­ble to spread on bread. A quick easy so­lu­tion is to pop some on a plas­tic or ce­ramic plate and stick it in the mi­crowave for a few sec­onds. But you need to be care­ful not to leave it in the mi­crowave for too long, or the whole lump will liq­uidise be­fore your eyes.

I've dis­cov­ered through trial and er­ror, that 5 sec­onds isn't quite long enough and 7 sec­onds is too long, the op­ti­mum time for my lump of but­ter is 6 sec­onds. The mir­a­cles of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy!

Over the past few weeks we've been see­ing the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of na­ture, and we've been re­minded of the dan­ger­ous ef­fects of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. The Ja­panese earth­quake and sub­se­quent tsunami have been fright­en­ing to watch on our TV screens.

This tragedy has been im­mense, and apart from the thou­sands who have died, and the be­reaved fam­i­lies, there are also hun­dreds of thou­sands whose lives have been changed for­ever. Their homes, their towns and com­mu­ni­ties, their world as they knew it, have been swept away in a mat­ter of mo­ments.

The great­est fear has been about the Nu­clear power plants at Fukushima, and the ra­di­a­tion prob­lems with the pos­si­ble melt-down of the re­ac­tors. And be­cause of this, once again the world has be­gun to ques­tion the use of nu­clear power, and the dan­ger of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy. Are the ben­e­fits of nu­clear tech­nol­ogy worth the risks? Should we stop tin­ker­ing with na­ture, be­cause 'when you play with fire - ex­pect to get burnt'?

And yet the many ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy have been so ben­e­fi­cial to hu­man­ity, that it would be hard to aban­don them, and re­vert to less risky ways of sur­viv­ing. For ex­am­ple, it would seem a gross over-re­ac­tion to aban­don air-travel sim­ply be­cause of the tragic ac­ci­dent at Cork Air­port re­cently. Like­wise, the use of oil to heat homes, power ve­hi­cles and pre­pare food, would surely counter the calamity that oc­curred in the Gulf of Mex­ico with the BP oil spill.

The earth­quake in Ja­pan has been hor­rific, but it could have been much worse if tech­nol­ogy hadn't warned peo- ple of the ap­proach­ing re­sul­tant tsunami. In 2004 in South East Asia around 230,000 peo­ple lost their lives. The early warn­ing and de­tec­tion sys­tems that were ac­ti­vated mo­ments af­ter the Ja­panese earth­quake struck pre­vented a re­peat of that.

The ad­vent of the X-Ray, elec­tric­ity and the in­ter­net, to name but a few, have brought dra­matic ben­e­fits to so­ci­ety. Peo­ple's lives are bet­ter, due to these dis­cov­er­ies, and yet, they each carry dan­gers.

In Amer­ica the is­sue of 'Re­li­gion ver­sus Science' of­ten comes up dur­ing elec­tion de­bates. It's ba­si­cally a ques­tion of our ori­gins, how did we get here? Were we cre­ated or did we evolve ran­domly? Are we the prod­uct of pur­pose­ful in­tel­li­gence or are we merely the end re­sult of count­less cos­mic ac­ci­dents? And these ques­tions are of­ten used in the de­bate about whether or not we should be in­ter­fer­ing with na­ture, as in the case of Nu­clear power, where we hu­mans try to play God, as we split the atom.

I be­lieve that God has given us the ca­pac­ity to im­prove and ad­vance our­selves. Hu­man be­ings have been cre­ated with in­tel­li­gence, which we have used as we have evolved, to ben­e­fit our­selves. But yes, I also be­lieve there comes a point where we must re­alise that we are not God, we are fi­nite and mor­tal. Some­times hu­man ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy can go too far. Think about ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing and nu­clear power. It's pos­si­ble that in time we will, through our tin­ker­ing with na­ture, man­age to de­stroy it com­pletely.

The mi­crowave made it eas­ier for me to spread but­ter on bread, it was fast, con­ve­nient and de­light­fully ef­fec­tive. But maybe we do need to have an­other think about where we're go­ing with our tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. The Ja­panese earth­quake and tsunami were hor­rific 'acts of God'. The pos­si­ble Fukashima nu­clear disas­ter is an hor­rific 'act of hu­man­ity'.

The earth­quake in Ja­pan has been hor­rific, but it could have been much worse if tech­nol­ogy hadn't warned peo­ple of the ap­proach­ing re­sul­tant tsunami.

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