I confess that now that the US is out of the World Cup, I have not been paying much attention to the matches, but I have still been hearing an interesting argument come up from time to time.

Some have been complaining that the new ball is causing problems and that a newer, better ball needs to be developed. Others have been frustrated by some key missed calls by the referees and say that what we really need is new laser-sighted goal-line technology. There are dozens of news stories about FIFA considering “in-game technology” to deal with various problems that fans have noticed.

What is Technicism?

What is interesting about all of this is that it appears to follow the pattern of something Stephen V. Monsma calls “technicism” which is the unending pursuit of more and more complex technologies designed to make human life better, But when those devices cause problems, the solution is always additional technologies that solve the problems caused by the previous technology, and then even more technology to deal with the problems of that technology, and so on.

For example, when it rains the material on a soccer ball is affected, and so there are calls for a more water resistant ball. Someone goes and invents a new material, but then players complain that the new material changes the way the ball spins and curves through the air. So another ball is developed. We then complain about the Gen3 ball, ever certain that there will be a technological solution that will finally get it right.

The deeper trouble is that each time we make a change, hoping that technology will solve a problem, we also introduce changes to the game that we later lament. In tennis, Paul Kedrosky observes a similar pattern happening and conclude that, “Modern technology has created a tennis monoculture.” One can find similar discussions in baseball, basketball, and so on.

Avoiding Technicism

The point of course is not to demonize technology or act as though it never actually does any good (after all, we wouldn’t have “buzzer shots” without buzzers), but to point out two important things.

First is that human life doesn’t work like a machine. Our technology supposedly does everything right all the time, but we feeble, fleshly creatures do not. Sadly, players go offsides. Referees miss calls. Perfect games are broken, and the wrong team sometimes win. But that’s all part of what makes games wonderfully human, and why it is we care more about what happens in a “real” games than the simulated ones on our PlayStations. The more automation and technology we add to a game, the less of it’s “gameness” we retain.

The second point is that while we like to believe that new technology only brings benefits, we have to recognize that new technology also brings change, and sometimes that change removes the very thing we value. Then the hope that technology can solve all problems (technicism) trickles down into other areas of our lives, we run the risk of perpetually adding technology in such a way that we lose our humanness. Just as the game stops being the game with too much technology, so also humanity ceases being human.

So this weekend, enjoy the game and enjoy being human.

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