Victor Davis Hanson

The answer is easy: The oceans are still big and the night remains dark. Jets, in comparison, are quite small. The seas are rough, the skies often stormy. For all our computerized sophistication, we really can lose a jet in a big and still wild world inhabited by millions who have not quite mastered technology, or who use technology to thwart technology.

The problem is not just that high technology is human-produced, and thus often crashes in the same way imperfect humans often fail. Sophisticated electronics also often disguise the brutal premodern world with a thin veneer of postmodern egotism.

Just because we post on Facebook, sell stuff on Craigslist or charge things on a Target card does not ensure that old-fashion Boston Stranglers or contemporary Bernie Madoffs are not lurking in the cyberspace alleyway to harm us. The ancient Greek poet Hesiod reminded us roughly 2,700 years ago that sometimes intellectual or material progress brings with it moral regress.

Our billionaire Lords of High Tech are not necessarily any different than entrepreneurs such as Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller or Leland Stanford of the late 19th-century Gilded Age. A fortune made in social networking is hardly any more noble than one made from monopolizing the railroad business, gobbling up steel companies or setting up tax-avoiding trusts.

Billionaire tech wizard Steve Jobs gave away less of his fortune than did Andrew Carnegie. Google offshores profits with accounting gimmickry that would have made J.P. Morgan proud. The hip Solyndra bunch got government-insider money and concessions of the sort that Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington garnered to build the transcontinental line. Yet the old robber barons at least used government money to create something; their modern green techie counterparts squandered it.

Sending employment abroad is a Silicon Valley specialty. That the techie wizards of Menlo Park wear jeans, listen to rap and surf the net endlessly does not mean that these profit-driven grandees outsource fewer jobs than did U.S. Steel in the 1950s.

To paraphrase Shane of Western movie fame: A laptop is only as bad or as good as the person using it.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.

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