First, let me state for the record that I think technological advancement is a wonderful thing. I love the conveniences new technologies bring and, like pretty much everyone these days, I’m dependent on them. (I wouldn’t last a week in the “Little House on the Prairie,” mainly because of the whole no-indoor-plumbing thing AND the lack of Netflix.) Technology has allowed for amazing positive changes in business, general communication and our personal lives.
It’s also opened the door to numerous possibilities when it comes to sustainability – like saving fuel and time by doing less business travel or making manufacturing leaner and more sustainable. But have we gotten to a point where technological convenience is taking away more than it’s giving? Maybe so.
Here’s one example: We all love the amazing shop-any-time convenience of online shopping sites like Amazon.com. And you could argue that we’re saving a lot of individual road miles and emissions by reducing trips to brick and mortar stores, which, in turn, means fewer brick and mortar stores (which use a lot of energy to keep the temperature comfy and the lights bright and cheery 24/7). You could also argue that buying books electronically, for instance, means less printing, which means a reduced need for paper, which means fewer trees cut down.
So yes, we’ve gained a way to be more sustainable here for sure. But remember, sustainability is about more than just the environment. It’s also about human well-being – and a large part of our well-being is wrapped up in experience.
Let’s focus in on bookstores, an increasingly endangered species precisely because of Amazon and the invention of zillions of electronic readers. There’s an intrinsic value that exists in brick and mortar bookstores. We’ve all felt it, the experience of walking through the front door, even at a megastore like Barnes & Noble. It’s a feeling of possibility – to search for your title and maybe discover something new. It’s a moment of exploration that you share with other humans entangled in the same wonderful journey. There’s a healthy value to touching that paperback and taking in the cover art before reading the synopsis on the back.
This type of interaction isn’t as measurable as something like a manufacturing process or carbon emissions – but does that make it less valuable? If part of sustainability is about using resources wisely, isn’t it wise to use resources to promote a healthy human condition?
We all know sustainability needs balance. Too many stores and we hurt our environment; too few and we hurt our humanity. We should embrace technological advancement as a wonderful thing for sustainability – we just need to keep an eye on our personal human advancement at the same time.