Optimism and skepticism in the 21st centuryOptimism and skepticism in the 21st century

This section mainly focuses on American concerns even if it can reasonably be generalized to other Western countries.

The inadequate quantity and quality of American jobs is one of the most fundamental economic challenges we face.  What's the linkage between technology and this fundamental problem?

— Bernstein, Jared, "It’s Not a Skills Gap That’s Holding Wages Down: It’s the Weak Economy, Among Other Things," in The American Prospect, October 2014
In his article, Jared Bernstein, a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, questions the widespread idea that automation, and more broadly, technological advances, have mainly contributed to this growing labor market problem. His thesis appears to be a third way between optimism and skepticism. Essentially, he stands for a neutral approach of the linkage between technology and American issues concerning unemployment and declining wages.

He uses two main arguments to defend his point. First, because of recent technological advances, an increasing number of workers are losing their jobs. Yet, scientific evidence fails to clearly demonstrate that technology has displaced so many workers that it has created more problems than it has solved. Indeed, automation threatens repetitive jobs but higher-end jobs are still necessary because they complement technology and manual jobs that "requires flexibility judgment and common sense" remain hard to replace with machines. Second, studies have not shown clear links between recent technology advances and the wage trends of the last decades.

Therefore, according to Bernstein, instead of focusing on technology and its hypothetical influences on current American increasing unemployment and declining wages, one needs to worry more about "bad policy that fails to offset the imbalances in demand, trade, income, and opportunity."

For people who use both the Internet and mobile devices in excessive quantities it is likely for them to experience fatigue and over exhaustion as a result of disruptions in their sleeping patterns. Continuous studies have shown that increased BMI and weight gain are associated with people who spend long hours online and not exercising frequently. Heavy Internet use is also displayed in the school lower grades of those who use it in excessive amounts. It has also been noted that the use of mobile phones whilst driving has increased the occurrence of road accidents — particularly amongst teen drivers. Statistically, teens reportedly have fourfold the amount of road traffic incidents as those who are 20 years or older, and a very high percentage of adolescents write (81%) and read (92%) texts while driving. In this context, mass media and technology have a negative impact on people, on both their mental and physical health.

Complex technological systems
Thomas P. Hughes stated that because technology has been considered as a key way to solve problems, we need to be aware of its complex and varied characters to use it more efficiently. What is the difference between a wheel or a compass and cooking machines such as an oven or a gas stove? Can we consider all of them, only a part of them, or none of them as technologies?

Technology is often considered too narrowly; according to Hughes, "Technology is a creative process involving human ingenuity". This definition's emphasis on creativity avoids unbounded definitions that may mistakenly include cooking “technologies," but it also highlights the prominent role of humans and therefore their responsibilities for the use of complex technological systems.

Yet, because technology is everywhere and has dramatically changed landscapes and societies, Hughes argues that engineers, scientists, and managers have often believed that they can use technology to shape the world as they want. They have often supposed that technology is easily controllable and this assumption has to be thoroughly questioned. For instance, Evgeny Morozov particularly challenges two concepts: “Internet-centrism” and “solutionism." Internet-centrism refers to the idea that our society is convinced that the Internet is one of the most stable and coherent forces. Solutionism is the ideology that every social issue can be solved thanks to technology and especially thanks to the internet. In fact, technology intrinsically contains uncertainties and limitations. According to Alexis Madrigal's review of Morozov's theory, to ignore it will lead to “unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address." Benjamin R. Cohen and Gwen Ottinger also discussed the multivalent effects of technology.

Therefore, recognition of the limitations of technology, and more broadly, scientific knowledge, is needed – especially in cases dealing with environmental justice and health issues. Ottinger continues this reasoning and argues that the ongoing recognition of the limitations of scientific knowledge goes hand in hand with scientists and engineers’ new comprehension of their role. Such an approach of technology and science " technical professionals to conceive of their roles in the process differently.  collaborators in research and problem solving rather than simply providers of information and technical solutions."