Rich Millennials Think Technology Makes Us Less Human. Old Poor Women Disagree.

India women technology
Techno-skepticism is fashionable in the United States and Europe. In India, not so much.

Photo by Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

You might think that young people are enthusiastically embracing new technology, while older folks fear and resist it. But a wide-ranging, eight-country survey released by Intel today challenges that stereotype.

In fact, Intel’s study found that young millennials—ages 18 to 24—are among the fiercest tech skeptics. Fifty-nine percent said they feel society relies on technology too much, and 61 percent believe it makes us “less human.” Fewer than half think technological devices should learn about their behavior and preferences, a concept that is integral to everything from Google and Facebook to Nest and the ballyhooed “Internet of things.”

Genevieve Bell, the company’s in-house anthropologist, told me she sees in the younger generation “a stronger sense of the Frankenstein story than I’ve seen in a while—this idea that you create something and then it tries to kill you. Frankenstein to The Terminator is to me an easy slippage.”

Interestingly, the group most optimistic about technology’s role in their lives is women older than 45 who live in developing countries. In China, seven out of 10 women over 45 believe people don’t use technology enough, and 79 percent say it makes us more human. That figure is 70 percent across all of the emerging-market countries in the survey, including Brazil, India, and Indonesia. But just 22 percent of American women in the same age group agreed.

Bell said she was astonished by the finding at first. But she suspects it stems from women in developing countries having seen technology dramatically improve their quality of life in the past decade or two. Specifically, women in developing countries said they believe technological innovations will improve education, transportation, work, and health care in the years to come. And they’re willing to help: 86 percent said they’d be willing to use software that watches their work habits, and 77 percent were open to the idea of using “smart toilets” to monitor their health.

In short, the Evgeny Morozov school of techno-skepticism seems to be catching on among young people in rich countries who take their gadgets for granted but fear for their privacy. But in countries where “quality of life” means access to basic education, health care, and sanitation, technology is still generally seen as an unalloyed good. To them, it seems, it’s privacy that’s the unnecessary luxury.