Something that most people will have noticed is that technology is often prey to the same kind of trickle-down effect that economics is meant to have. Whether or not it is really true for economics is hugely debatable, but you have to admit that technology does seem to have this characteristic, and that it is one of the main ways in which it functions for us as a global culture. What do we mean by this? Put simply, trickle-down means that the technology that is currently possible and just being invented or used high up in organizations and in the military and governments, take a while to get down to ordinary consumer use. You will have noticed that there are always stories of new technologies being deployed by the military, only to find the same thing on a supermarket shelf years later.
This process is fascinating, and a clear example of the way in which global capitalism actually works. It can seem to make a farce of the notion of the consumer being able to get whatever they want, especially when there is plenty of tech out there which even Jeff Bezos – the world’s richest human – could not afford to buy. But how does the trickle down effect of technology work, what does it look like, and how does it affect your daily life? Most of all, is it something that you should be concerned about? In this article, we will answer some of these burning questions, and discover what might be so important about the way that technology tends to trickle-down to the average person quite slowly.
What Is It?
We have looked briefly into the process of trickle-down technology already, but let’s now take a deeper look into the process and see what it really is. A good definition can help us to appreciate what it is that is happening, and might even elucidate why we might want to care about such a process happening in front of our eyes. Notions of whether or not it actually works or whether it is fair put aside, let’s look quickly at what it means to trickle-down, or at the very least what it should mean, so that we know what we are rally talking about here.
The general idea here is borrowed from a much earlier term, known as trickle-down economics, which can be seen quite clearly in the world. This says that money tends to flow down from the highest to the lowest in society, by way of a variety of means. So those who are at the top, the richest, pay for the services and goods of those at the bottom, creating an economy which benefits everyone. Although there might genuinely be some trickle-down in a nation’s or the world’s economy, most people today agree that this notion of capital easily flowing down from one person to the next is, at the very least, overly reductionist and simplistic, and not really a fair or accurate representation of what really happens. If you look at the history of the world, and in particular since the industrial revolution, you see quite clearly that this trickle-down does not happen.
In fact, the exact opposite happens: over time, the rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer, and this trend does not seem to be slowing down. This gap between the rich and poor is part of the reasoning for the burgeoning middle classes, who then do genuinely experience some trickle-down effect from those just above them. This might explain some of the reason that the idea has taken hold so much, particularly as it is the middle-classes who often have a fair degree of control over the media, and some of the loudest collective voices in society.
Regardless, that there is some trickle-down may or may not be the case, but when it comes to technology, there does seem to be a general process which we can describe, whereby the invented technologies of today become the ordinary, everyday products of consumption tomorrow. Clearly, however, this process can take a long time, and part of the problem is that the average consumer is not often aware of just how long it has taken. Apart from anything else, this makes any ability to determine the value of an item of technology much harder, and less accurate in general to do.
How Does It Work?
In theory, the trickle-down of technology works in a very simple way. First, the big companies develop some technology – whether that is for the military, the government, or just for themselves. This is inevitably a very expensive process, so it makes sense that it cannot be made available for commercial use straight away. The organizations and governments then make use of this technology, sometimes for decades, before it gradually becomes cheaper to make, sometimes thanks to improvements in methodology for creating such products. Then, it gets to the point where more and more average consumers can afford it, and gradually it becomes a part of ordinary life.
This process has happened with many ordinary items which you have in your home, from the television you watch every night to the device that you are reading this article on. It happened with the kettle and the refrigerator and the lightbulb. It is also something that happens with items which you might consider to be less common, but which you might nonetheless find in the home of some people: while only the military would make use of a night vision gear years ago, these days anyone can afford to purchase such items from the likes of Night Flight Concepts, Inc..
There are so many factors that go into determining whether or not something gets through this process at all, and how long it takes it if does, but one of the most obvious is safety. You can’t simply allow the people to have access to incredible new technologies if they are deemed unsafe, and there are plenty of military items which obviously should not be for ordinary consumption. It can also be a matter of cost, or even just that there is a lack of any genuine desire for the supply. Whatever it is, the process of trickle-down technology can be varied and unpredictable, and this alone has some pretty interesting consequences for how you live your life, and why you don’t live it in a more improved way.
How Does It Affect Your Life?
You might be wondering at this point how it is that this process of slow or non-existent trickle-down technology actually affects your life, and why it matters. The truth is that there are many consequences of this process, and the more aware of it you are, the more likely it is that you will be able to see why it might be something of a moral problem in our cultures and societies across the globe. Much of this is to do with the way in which these products become available, and what it says about the control of information.
We live in the information age, as we all know. Because of the overabundance of information and data out there, we have come to believe that we are in a position where we are able to find out whatever information we want whenever we want to. Certainly, this is the promise that the huge tech firms like Google promise us. But the irony is that it is these same tech companies who are creating and participating in a global system which is keeping us blind to many things we might otherwise know.
Before technology is trickled-down, the average person doesn’t know of it, nor do they have any means of finding out about it. It’s not the kind of thing you can Google, and much of the time it is purposefully kept quiet until the time is deemed to be right. Because of this, it follows that you and I have literally no idea what kind of tech is currently out there, which will one day become an ordinary part of our lives. There are people out there who do know, but those of us at the bottom of the process can’t know and don’t know. This says a lot for our feeling of being in the know in an information age full of helpful technology. In reality, the process of trickle-down is a process of gradually allowing ordinary people to be told the truth about what technology has currently achieved. Ultimately, this is about being made to believe that we have the technology world open to us, when the truth is far from it.
There is something of a sea change afoot, however. There are genuinely more and more independent people pursuing technological changes, and in general the people are becoming more aware of technology to the point where they are knowledgeable enough about it to live happy lives. We can expect this process to continue – and in the meantime, we should each aim to avoid hoping for the next great piece of technology to come along and change our lives.