Column | The Netherlands must not be afraid of technology

In the spring of 1995, a debate took place in De Balie on the occasion of the publication of the sixth part of the standard work History of technology in the Netherlands. The Emergence of a Modern Society 1800-1890. While the subtitle of the enormous book, coordinated by Prof. dr. Ir. HW Lintsen, breathing optimism, the announcement raised the alarm. “Is the Netherlands afraid of technology? The difficult debate about the technological culture in our delta,” said De Balie.

The presenters immediately put it into perspective, starting with Ad Geelhoed, who died relatively young, then still Secretary General of Economic Affairs, who received the first copy. The now yellowed fax that De Balie sent me in advance with the summary of his speech establishes that Holland is not afraid of technology. In the 17th century we were at the forefront, although the pace has slowed since then. However, we must avoid being afraid, because our consensus culture is not necessarily a plus compared to East Asia or California. According to Geelhoed, the knowledge-intensive society must be influenced from above, we must ‘deal creatively with possible resistance from existing norms and values’. Other speakers pointed out that resistance mainly arises when technology changes one’s own environment, such as with dike reinforcement. The fear is change, not technology. The minutes in the magazine science policy says that “Prof Fresco from Wageningen” points to the rapid acceptance of computers and CDs, but that people do not want to know the process behind it. A ‘black box syndrome’ would threaten ‘in a country where alpha and gamma rule’.

To be honest, I had completely forgotten about that meeting, but the question of whether Holland is afraid of technology is still relevant. At the time, we had no idea that our lives would be dominated so quickly and so radically by technological change. Still, the current picture of technology is not favorable. It is the irony of our time that countries once called “backward” now embrace science and technology the most.

The current attitude towards engineers is ambivalent at best. An engineer may build beautiful bridges, but he is also someone who technical correction who forget that people refuse to adapt or do not use the things. Engineers are seen as masters of the universe who want to break free from nature by manipulating genes and sending humans to Mars. The majority of young people with a science package on their final exams do not go on to science studies, and even fewer become engineers.

This is worrying, because the issues we are grappling with today, which will lay the foundation for our future prosperity, all have a technological side. Modern communication, trade, healthcare, food, power supply or new materials are unthinkable without the latest technology. Technology opens new paths to prosperity. Next week, the Royal Institute of Engineers (KIvI), which was founded to ‘make change possible’, celebrates its 175th anniversary. Save the sheet The engineer and optimism explodes. For engineers, almost everything has a solution.

Of course, engineers must learn to deal with the social context. But it would be a tragedy if engineering and science and their applications were held back by unfounded fear and populism (think vaccine resistance) in a country that has enjoyed so much from scientific progress. Let the Netherlands not be afraid of technology, starting with the alphas and gammas of politics!

Louise O. Fresco is a scientist, administrator and author and also an honorary member of KIvI. (

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