The issue at debate here is whether technology has led to a more equitable society. Before delving in, it is important to understand that equity is not the same thing as equality. Equality means that everyone gets the same thing, and equity means that people get what they need to be on equal footing with others. So, in terms of technology providing equity, it must mean that marginalized people can access the technologies necessary to place themselves within a more equitable position in society. It is such a lovely and well-intentioned idea, but it is simply not the case.
You see, in theory technology definitely has the potential to help to level the playing field for many people, but in reality it falls short. I recently listened to a debate on this topic in my EC&I 830: Contemporary Issues in Educational Technology (#ECI830) class titled, Technology has led to a more equitable society. Although both sides of the debate made convincing arguments, my opinion on the matter remains unchanged, technology does not necessarily bring about equity, and can even create greater disparities . During the debate, the “agree” side pointing out how advances in medical technology have provided a greater quality of life for many people. Technology has certainly helped to advance medicine. Whereas the against side chose to highlight how different socio-economic status determines access to technology, thus creating what has been referred to as “The Digital Divide”.
Technology is often limited to those who can afford it, and those who are familiar with it. This leaves out a significant portion of society. When schooling went online during the pandemic, those who were fortunate enough to have access to technology could still participate in class and gain instruction via Zoom or Google Meet. Those students who did not have access to technology, and there were many at the school where I work, were sent home paper work packets to complete on their own. I don’t think I need to explain the disparity in quality of education here.
As far as medicine goes, I will agree that advances in medical technology have allowed people to live longer lives, and for some to live a better quality of life than they may have prior to technology, but only if they have the access to that technology. Assistive technology like glasses, wheel chairs, hearing aids and scooters can be expensive, or hard to obtain. Not only that, but I have to ask, does having a better quality of life than you would without technology actually constitute equity? I’m not inclined to think so. My niece has a rare disease called IgA Nephropathy, she is still alive, and has some quality of life thanks to advancements in medicine, like dialysis, which do the work of her kidney. So whether she gets a transplant, or whether bio-artificial kidneys become a reality, it will be thanks to technology.
Yet, my niece was diagnosed when she was ten, she is now twenty-one. She has spent the last decade feeling sick daily, spending time at doctors and specialist appointments, having medical tests done, taking a cocktail of pills each day, having multiple operations, hospital visits, emergency room visits, and ambulance rides. Has her life experience been equitable with her peers? No. My niece has been granted a life, but she’s also had to watch her friends from the sidelines doing all the things that children and teens normally do like sleepovers with friends, participating in school plays and sports, and going to dances and parties. I am so grateful for the technology that has allowed her to be here with us, but I do wish with all my heart that she could have had a “normal” childhood and continued to do all the things she enjoyed before she got sick. No amount of technology will or can change that, just like no amount of technology will erase systemic racism.
So, in the end, while technology has the potential to bring equity to society, it falls rather flat.