Not long ago, a reader sent me an article from The New York Times, “Among the Disrupted,” by Leon Wieseltier. He was writing about the many ways technology invades our culture, calling the effect a tyranny of technology. (Click) Below are two examples of recent advances. Is he right?.
On Animal Testing:
“Scientists need to think outside of the cage,” writes Charu Chandrasekera, director of laboratory science for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (“Human Organs-On-Chips,” in the Autumn issues of Good Medicine, pg.6- 8.) He opposes animal testing and points out that in “150 human clinical trials of inflammatory diseases (including asthma, commonly triggered by fragrances) … 100 percent of the drugs developed using mice failed.” (bid pg. 8.)
“Organs-on-a-chip” may come to replace animal testing, Chandrasekera says. The Wyss Institute at Harvard has developed 10 “organs-on-a chip.” Each chip is about the size of a computer memory stick. It can mimic lung function when it’s coated on one side with human tissue and capillary cells on the other. Already these lung chips have been used to test cancer drugs and evaluate the toxic effect of air borne particles. The research will soon expand to include the brain, circulatory system and female reproductive system. (Ibid pg. 6)
On Prison Visits
At the other end of the spectrum lies a technology that may put an end to family prison visits. “75 counties and municipalities in the United States have replaced face-to-face meetings with telecom video systems.” (“Captive Audience,” Mother Jones, March/April, 2015 pgs. 10-14.) Prisoners reach loved ones via video consoles located at convenient locations for the families, like public libraries. Teleconferencing must be prearranged and the length and number of them is limited. Inmates in Maricopa County, Arizona, for example, pay $5 for a 20-minute online chat. After that, the rate goes up to $12.95. (Ibid pg. 12.)
The advantage to the prison administrators is an increased level of security and easy surveillance of an inmate’s contacts . Unfortunately, while the Federal Communications Commission agency regulates the price of prison phone calls to 21-cents per minute, no regulations exist for teleconferencing. Companies are free to charge what the market will bear.
Some prisons are so enamored with this technology, they have eliminated face-to-face visits altogether. Critics argue the move puts a financial strain on the inmates and loosens their ties with their families. Telecommunications industries will benefit from the trend, but will it aid or abet the success of a prisoner’s returning to the community at large. That’s the question.