Technological advances become more and more prevalent by the day. Technology at current is mainly used to advance industries and businesses both big and small. Technology can be a useful tool for the organization of many societies. While technology has proved to advance societies economically, technology can be used for more than just profit for a few numbers of people. Technology can be a driving force for social change. The term “techno-utopia” is often brought up in conversations regarding societies using technology to benefit the quality of life of their citizens. However, techno-utopia does not have a single, clear definition and can mean different things to different societies. Criteria that makes a society techno-utopian is also not well defined. First ideas that may pop up in ones head when hearing techno-utopia might flying cars and chrome-covered cities, but it can be a lot simpler. Utopian literature focuses on the betterment of citizens’ quality of life, with a focus on enhancing the standard of living. Technology can advance these improvements to citizens’ lives through education, citizen rights, sustainability, infrastructure, governance, and much more. As this conversation progresses, the definition of a techno-utopian society must be discussed as well as the criteria needed for a society to be truly techno-utopian.
Definition of a Techno-Utopia
The definition of a techno-utopia is often left up to interpretation. Having this open definition can lead to inconsistent ideologies and inappropriate usage of the word. Defining a techno-utopia is important in understanding how a techno-utopian society functions and what is expected of such a society. Some definitions of a techno-utopian society are mechanical. The tech company IBM, one of the leaders of technological advancements in our society, labels a techno-utopia to be an “instrumented, interconnected and intelligent city”. This definition focuses on the information and communication technologies (ICT), technology being used to engineer societies to be more connected by capturing data and using that data to improve city services. This definition is straightforward, however it leaves out a very important aspect of techno-utopias, the citizens. In order for a techno-utopia to exist, the needs of citizens and their communities must be addressed. A study published by the Journal of Urban Technology compared over twenty definitions of techno-utopias, or as they call them “smart cities”, from scientific literature. A majority of these techno-utopia definitions mention using sustainable practices. These definitions also emphasize using ICT to better citizens’ quality of life. (Albino, Dangelico, & Berardi 2015). The main issue having a concrete definition of a techno-utopia is that it means different things to different societies and people. These definitions fall into two divisions. Techno-utopias can focus on natural resource management, waste management, energy, buildings, infrastructure, etc. They can also focus on education, social technologies, e-governance, citizen rights, etc. A good definition of techno-utopias would be a balance of these definitions. My own definition of a techno-utopia is the following: A society that uses sustainable information and communications technology to connect their communities, make everyday tasks more efficient all while improving standard of living of its citizens. This definition may seem vague, but it can be added to. Overall, a techno-utopia seeks to use technology to improve society by improving its social aspect.
Three Main Techno-Utopian Criteria Discussed in Literature
Many articles discussing techno-utopias, also known as “smart cities” discuss characteristics that these societies encompass. Techno-utopian hubs are important for economical advancement, however, economical advancement is often pursued without sustainability being considered. Almost all of the articles written about these smart cities discuss sustainability as being necessary to these societies. In an article published by The Sustainable Development of Smart Cities through Digital Innovation, the authors wrote, “It was recommended to use the term “smart sustainable cities” instead of “smart cities”, indicating that metrics for assessment of a smart city should also consider environmental, economic and social sustainability aspects. ” (Oliveira et al. 2020). The article goes on to talk about how sustainability should be a part of techno-utopian development. Another article published by Government Information Quarterly discusses techno-utopias as striving “to create the foundations for human-centric and sustainable socio-economic wellbeing and quality of life.”, (Yeh, 2017). Sustainable practices can reduce pollution, decrease the usages of natural resources, improve waste management, and improve the health of citizens.
E- governance is another topic that is discussed when talking about techno-utopias. One article defines this as, “E-governance encompasses how to govern, serve, organize and formulate proposals related to worldwide communities that are settled on urban areas. It works in order to develop technologies to promote citizens’ participation in different areas,” (Oliveira et al. 2020). Another article discusses the ISO report regarding smart cities in 2014 which says, “as a prerequisite for the development of SCs, adopting ICT applications in e-government enables citizens to communicate with all levels of government, improving and enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of their involvement in the governance of the public sectors,” (Yeh, 2017). In a study conducted on Seoul, South Korea, their government uses phone applications and e-government services to communicate smart and sustainable policies to citizens. An article published by The Journal of Urban Technology defines e-governance as, “ICT-mediated governance, also called e-governance, is fundamental in bringing smart city initiatives to citizens, and to keeping the decision and implementation process transparent. However, the spirit of e-governance in a smart city should be citizen-centric and citizen-driven,” (Albino et. al. 2015). E-governance allows citizens to be more involved in government decisions and aware of government policies.
Infrastructure is vital to the way a society is organized. A lot of literature examines infrastructure because it affects even technologically advanced societies as well as those that are not. Bad infrastructure can lead to increased traffic, bad cellphone reception, and failed transportation systems, which reduces efficiency and would make citizens’ lives difficult. “Cities and urban environments are facing challenges to maintain and upgrade the required infrastructures and establish efficient, effective, open and participative innovation processes to jointly create the innovative applications and services that meet the demands of their citizens,” (Concilio et al. 2016). When the needs of citizens are not being met, citizens become unhappy. In a techno-utopia, improved infrastructure can be used to improve public transport, making all areas of the city accessible to all citizens. Good infrastructure can provide citizens with Wi-Fi hotspots around the city. It can also collect data important for city planning, citizen health and even traffic. Information and communication technology infrastructure can be used in techno-utopias to “support social and urban growth through improving the economy, citizen involvement and government efficiency,” while “providing their citizens with an improved and smarter way of living,” (Yeh 2016). A techno-utopia comes down to improved infrastructure. Quality infrastructure provides citizens with better communication, transportation, and connectivity to the society around them.
My Personal Techno-Utopian Criteria
Much like the authors of the articles that I have read, I too believe that sustainability, e-governance, and infrastructure are important to techno-utopian societies. Sustainable practices can reduce the usages of natural resources in cities. This can better citizen lives by eliminating health problems caused by unsustainable practices, like asthma. E-governance keeps citizens up to date on government policies and encourages them to be more involved in their society by making the government services more accessible, like voting, so that all citizens voices are heard. E-governance can help to improve citizens’ rights by making sure citizens are part of government decision making. Infrastructure is important for the organization of a techno-utopia. Infrastructure provides citizens with the tools they need to live efficiently in their society, like public transportation.
One aspect of a techno-utopian society that I want to focus on is education. In my research, education was mentioned in articles, but seldom discussed in detail. Education leads to a lot of opportunities, especially for citizens from low income areas. While education is wildly offered, not all educational systems are the same. Education systems in areas of higher incomes tend to be better quality. Techno-utopias must focus on the quality of education systems. When more individuals are educated, they can contribute to society both socially and economically. “Focusing on education, Winters (2011) clarifies that a smart city is a center of higher education, better-educated individuals, and skilled workforces. Smart cities act as magnets for creative people and workers, and this allows the creation of a virtuous circle making them smarter and smarter,” (Albino et. al. 2015). Educated individuals can contribute to the techno-utopian workforce and further develop technologies to move society forward. However, our educational system at current is vert archaic and needs to be updated to better suit their interests and the needs of society. An article published in Computer in Human Behavior discusses how education must shift in order for students to actively contribute to their society once done with school. The authors state, “Their courses of study would start with an emphasis on foundational skills then advance toward specialized competencies that correspond to their strengths, passions and employment opportunities and continually provide for retraining as the employment market changes,” (Zhuhadar et al. 2017).
All criteria of a techno-utopia should be focused on improving the standard of living for citizens through technology.
Citizens are the basis of any society. Societies around the world, both technologically advanced and not, continue to struggle because citizens are not being put first. A techno-utopia focuses on the citizens’ quality of life. It uses technology to better the standard of living of its citizens. Investing in citizens is important. When citizens basic needs are being met, they no longer have to worry about instability and can focus on their interests. A techno-utopian society encourages citizens participation in government and communities. When citizens are happy with their society, they are more willing to contribute to their society. Their interests can evolve into technologies or ideologies that can elevate society even more.
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Concilio, Grazia, et al. “Human Smart Cities: A New Vision for Redesigning Urban Community and Citizen’s Life.” Knowledge, Information and Creativity Support Systems: Recent Trends, Advances and Solutions Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, 2016, pp. 269–278., doi:10.1007/978-3-319-19090-7_21.
Oliveira, Thays A., et al. “Challenges for Connecting Citizens and Smart Cities: ICT, E-Governance and Blockchain.” Sustainability, vol. 12, no. 7, 2020, p. 2926., doi:10.3390/su12072926.
Yeh, Hsiaoping. “The Effects of Successful ICT-Based Smart City Services: From Citizens’ Perspectives.” Government Information Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 3, 2017, pp. 556–565., doi:10.1016/j.giq.2017.05.001.
Zhuhadar, Leyla, et al. “The next Wave of Innovation—Review of Smart Cities Intelligent Operation Systems.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 66, Jan. 2017, pp. 273–281., doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.09.030.