Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Critical Analysis of the Essay “Progress” by Alan Lightman

The essay “Progress” written by Alan Lightman is a good example of an argumentative essay. The writer asks each individual, whether developments in technology improve the quality of life. Or what should be the definition of progress or development? It is a crucial question for the people living in the twentieth century where the development in science and technology is uncontrollably moving very fast. Alan brings out the thesis statement of the essay; advances in technology do not always improve life.
Many people define development as increase in number of cars, buildings, factories, connection of roads, electricity, telephones, use of modern equipments by the farmers etc…  because it improves human lives. This means about majority of people has a false concept of progress according to Lightman. Lightman agrees that development in science and technology improves human lives but for a short period of time.  In the long run it affects human lives. To prove the statement he gives a very relevant example of using air conditioner. When we use AC, it gives us comfort for a short period of time but in the long run it pollutes the environment. So we should make a choice between a short term comfort of air conditioning against the long term comfort of a pollution free environment.
“For at least the past two hundred years, human society has operated under the assumption that all developments in science and technology constitute progress.” This means the writer says that if a new car travels faster than the current models, we should produce it. Similarly if a new plastic has the strength to hold more weight than the older variety, we should produce it in the market. But we are not thinking of the bad impacts on the environment in future.
The writer persuades the readers to believe that development in science and technology is not always a sign of progress. He gives many pros and cons of development in science and technology in the essay, for instance the writer says with development we have electricity. But at the same time because of electricity, human activities are extended even at late night.  People’s entertainment has innumerably expanded - discotheques, browsing internet, reading and athletic events.  Many office works are done through internet. He agrees that it is faster and cheaper than regular mails but there are chances of making wrong decisions. When the decision makers make wrong decisions, can there be progress? The late night entertainments disturb the daily life schedule of humans. After having sleepless nights, just imagine how will they work. Another example would be people are found using cell phones while eating, people go for a vacation to relax and spend some time with their friends and relatives but taking their modems with them. This means there is no time for their friends and relatives. This deteriorates the most essence of human values.
 Another example is the advances in medical field, the narrator says, “We have obviously reduced physical suffering and substantially extended the healthy human life Span.” but should we call this progress? He has quoted from H.G. Wells’ book “The Island of Dr. Moreau”. The evil surgeon creates a creature that is half human and half beast. If such things are possible through advance in science, we should really question ourselves, what should be the definition of progress.
Alan lightman’s concept of progress is very similar to our fourth king’s goal of GNH. Firstly, the writer gives emphasis on human happiness similar to our beliefs in considering GNH is more important than GDP. Secondly, if the development in science and technology affects culture and tradition then it is not considered as progress. Thirdly if the invention or use of anything affects the natural resources, it is not a sign of progress. Fourthly if the economic growth does not give happiness to the people, it is not considered as progress. We could see all the four pillars of GNH in Alan Lightman’s “progress”.
 The essay ends with the line, “In the long run, we need to change our thinking, to realize that we are not only a society of production and technology but also a society of human beings.” It is a geneuine made by the author to all the readers, that we as an individual should think what is truly important in our lives and decide which technologies to accept and which one to resist without affecting our human values and quality of lives.