Technology: misuse and malfunction
Cultural practices and the creation of material culture has enabled humans to adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by changes in the world we inhabit. The accelerating rate of technological change, especially following the Industrial Revolution, have produced a tsunami of novel innovation that has become part of our everyday experience, but also remains hidden from us. The new opportunities created by this technology may have great benefits, but beneath the surface there are enduring concerns about what happens when this technology goes wrong, or ends up in the wrong hands. The Anthropocene gives a sense that the Earth is talking back to undermine the illusion of human technoscientific mastery.
The causes of technological failure routinely focus on human error as the weak link in the process, rather than blaming the technology itself. This human frailty has been presented as miscommunication, negligence, poor design/production standards, weak company management, and cost-saving compromises of quality and safety measures. The more malign intentions of technological terrorism are seen in purposeful actions to tamper with system operations to cause harm. This includes cybercrimes, where hostile states intervene in the governance, security, and financial services of other nations, where criminals steal commercially valuable resources from individuals and corporations, and the exploitation of others through blackmail and human trafficking.
Infamous incidents of technological failure include the 1974 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 plane crash near Paris, the 1977 Boeing 747 collision in Tenerife, and recently the Boeing 737-MAX grounding due to disastrous design flaws. Similarly, a cynically calculated corporate decision about costs of the unsafe design of the 1970s Ford Pinto car occurred that was known to be vulnerable to explosion during rear-end collisions. The apocalyptic fears of nuclear Meltdown were experienced in the nuclear radiation leak of Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania in 1979; the 1984 accidental release of poisonous gas methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India; and the devastating nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. More recently, the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, caused by series of poor management decisions, design flaws, and the use of flammable cladding on the building’s exterior, reflect the cost-cutting negligence of the local council and lack of concern for lower-income families living in council flats.
The exhibits in this room present the adverse consequences of technological catastrophe in the Misanthropocene. This provides evidence of the failure of technologies (from human error and malicious tampering) experienced in certain future worlds.
Baum, A., Fleming, R., and Davidson, L. M., 1983. Natural Disaster and Technological Catastrophe. Environment and Behavior 15/3, 333-354.
Manion, M. and Evan, W. M., 2002. Technological Catastrophes: Their Causes and Prevention. Technology in Society 24, 207-224.