16 Paradoxes Created by Technology—Byting Off More than We Can Chew

by | Dec 30, 2015

By Michael Larsen

I can’t think of any better way to end 2015 than with a guest post from Mike Larsen (you can read his bio below). Mike keeps his finger on the pulse of the publishing world through his wide network of friends and colleagues.

Combine that with his love for lists (they make great handouts!) and quotable style, and you’ll see why I’m always happy to have one of his articles for the blog. Today, Mike takes on the paradoxes inherent in the constantly changing technology landscape that every author faces.

Like climate disruption, tech disruption is a relentless, implacable, accelerating force unto itself. We embrace it for its benefits without understanding their consequences.

Tech is driven by profit, competition, the need to grow and satisfy stakeholders, and an innovate-or-die pressure that force tech companies to be more concerned about profit than people or the planet, the essential sources of sustainability.

The need for profit undermines idealism and makes the phrase “ethical corporation” an oxymoron. Tech disruption is as important as climate disruption, and we control both equally.

  1. The Internet simultaneously connects us to the world and isolates us.
  2. The more tech fosters unity, the more it enables fragmentation.
  3. The more knowledge there is, the less we know.
  4. We are in a state of information overload and information deficit simultaneously, and there’s nothing we can do about either.
  5. The greater the amount of information available, the smaller the devices it goes through. Some day all knowledge will be available, but the device for accessing it will be too small to see.
  6. Tech was going to lead to paperless offices, but it generates more paper faster than any preceding technology.
  7. However much good tech does, its potential for evil will always be greater.
  8. The more powerful tech is, the fewer people there are who control it.

  9. The more powerful tech is, the less power people have to control it.
  10. The more powerful tech is, the greater its potential for diminishing the freedom and control of individuals and organizations.
  11. The larger tech becomes, the more vulnerable it becomes.
  12. The more tech serves us, the more we have to meet its needs.
  13. The more tech empowers users for commerce, creativity, communication, and community, the more potential it has to control freedom.
  14. Technology breeds frenemies; Amazon can be your enemy and your best customer.
  15. The more tech increases productivity, the fewer workers there are who can buy what is produced.
  16. The more time-saving devices we have, the less time we have. Someday, we won’t have to do anything, but we won’t have the time to do it.

Mike LarsenMichael Larsen is a principal in the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency. He is the author of several books including How to Write a Book Proposal and the book proposal templates based on it. Michael is also the founder of the San Francisco Writer’s Conference: A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference. And he writes a blog, too.

Photo: shutterstock

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Alex SacK

    Hear, hear Mike! We are on the front lines here in SF. Quantity has overwhelmed quality via the saturation and ease of tech. But until Mother Nature makes her inevitable “market correction”, we must move forward knowing thy enemy. Thank you for identifying it!

  2. Lutz Barz

    ho hum. isn’t he a clever lad? more knowledge = more ignorance. what crap. maybe for him.
    this is so pathetic so much sophistry it becomes self defeating. Devices disappearing. Even science fiction is not that ridiculous. Maybe if he read some decent books. How can large tech be vulnerable. To wit I used to work in a huge steelworks and guess what? it is still there!
    happy new year

    • Karl Drinkwater

      Hi Lutz,

      There are different ways of interpreting the statements, but they do seem to chime with my experience. Just one example, from my background as a university librarian:

      “The more knowledge there is, the less we know.”

      We know more about things than ever before, including communication and language. Yet the written standards of many university students now are far worse than ever before – and they just don’t seem to know many of the basics, despite the knowledge being out there. Essays without punctuation, incorrect words, terrible spelling. Language levels I’d expect at junior school, not university.
      There is more information out there (books, magazines, the web) than ever before. Yet some of it is competing, and the mass of it swamps you, making it harder to find the correct information amongst the morass. Google is the most-used search tool, and it doesn’t even have proper refinement and truncation tools to create an exact search – it is all so “fuzzy” that although the knowledge is out there, finding it is probably harder. Especially as more and more of the Internet gets blocked, censored, cease-and-desisted, and DMCA’d.

      Anyway, that’s how I understood it! I may be wrong.

      • Lutz Barz

        thank you Herr Drinkwater. All clear now. I reacted to the oversimplification oversimplified and reacted thusly.
        I am a refugee from university [made the BA] and am surprised how slack your students are. FAIL THEM. If they haven’t got the nous to write an essay with dots and commas then with a degree they might be a real-time menace.
        FAIL FAIL FAIL. I was offered a tutorship pt and considering should have taken it up. Never mind. Do my own research and writing a new slant on an old subject -history- the big one.
        meaning your student’s research. Duckduckgo- is a great search engine. no crap no spam no rubbish. Gives you what your search results were looking for.
        that of course is not real research unless peer reviewed articles. so if they don’t do that FAIL them. You might get famous and get promoted
        all the best

  3. Karl Drinkwater

    Thanks, it is refreshing to come across an article that even mentions ethics nowadays! We’ve become a world where most people don’t recognise designed obsolescence, or care about the environmental impact of the ever-upgrading culture. We’re diverging from sustainability whilst paying lip service to it (another paradox). I agreed with all 16 points you made.

    Although it won’t change things for most people, hopefully ideas like the Fairphone will have an impact. https://www.fairphone.com/ Attempts to make tech repairable, longer-lived, more ethical and so on. Though the best option is to keep existing tech for longer. Reduce and reuse come before recycle.

  4. Laurence O'Bryan


    Extrapolating present trends always sees us in a mess. Malthus wasn’t the first to do that. Perhaps the art of filtering should be a course for all high school students.

    Unfortunately the genii is out of the bottle now. It will take all the talents we have to keep it from wrecking everything. But I believe the power for good is greater than the power for evil.

    Perhaps I’m just an optimist. Only time will tell.



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