The idea of Progress

The idea of progress can be defined as an improvement, a development or a change – a technical, scientific or social advance which contributes to making the world a better place.

Examples can be:

– Scientific Progress – Medical advances, cures for illnesses, cloning, performance enhancing drugs, genetically modified organisms.

– Technological Progress- technologies to slow down climate change such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuel…..

advances in communication: the internet, social media, mobile phones, video games – how they have changed our lives and the dangers of these modern ways of communication

Robots, automated production

Nuclear Power – for and against

– Social Progress: changes in the quality of life – how does progress affect our society?

Education, employment, equality, family life

Women’s rights, human rights, minority rights ……

The idea of liberty, freedom, democracy


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The Idea of Progress

The idea of progress is the idea that advances in technology, science and social organisation can bring about a positive change to our society. These advances help improve our daily lives and give us a better quality of life. Social progress, scientific progress and economic development are usually considered as having a positive effect on our society however there are some cases where this change can have a negative effect too. Very often progress is also accompanied by opposition because society isn’t comfortable with the changes being made (same sex marriage, women’s rights, minority rights to name but a few). We can ask ourselves whether progress is always positive?

There are many kinds of progress and they can be divided in diverse areas.

A. Technological progress

The technological advances of the last decades have totally changed the world we know today. If we take the example of the arrival of internet and access to computers and smartphones it is easy to see to what extent our lives and our relationships with others have been completely transformed. On the one hand we have access to far more information than before, we can easily communicate across borders, buy new products, be informed about the latest news events, share our opinions about different topics but on the negative side many people have become addicted to social media and this creates new problems such as depression, isolation, bullying, cybercriminality…..

Of course there are other types of technological progress that have a more positive impact on society – means of transport, robots, means of communication, energy production, protection of the environment.


B. Scientific progress

Scientific progress has had a direct impact on the improvement of human life. Thanks to advances in medicine we can cure illnesses that could never have been cured in the past. Vaccinations protect millions of children from disease. Antibiotics, painkillers and other medical treatments have helped to improve our general state of health and survival rates. But could there be a point were progress come too far? What should be the importance given to ethics? What about scientific progress in the area of cures for illnesses, cloning, performance enhancing drugs,   genetically modified organisms etc?


C. Social progress

Social progress most often comes about when members of a population feel unhappy with their living conditions or their social rights. Change most often comes about following a fight for rights and this change sometimes accompanied by severe opposition.

Examples that can be used to illustrate this notion:

  • easy communication across the world via internet and the impact this information has on our daily lives
  • information from satellites warning us about severe weather conditions
  • robots and automation in the workplace
  • addiction to smartphones and video games
  • cyberbullying or cybercriminality
  • facebook and twitter and how quickly rumours can spread
  • the pros and cons of medical advances
  • performance enhancing drugs in the sports world
  • « designer » babies
  • the Space race
  • Euthanasia
  • Industrial pollution
  • Ocean pollution
  • the ethics of progress: tests on animals/abortion/cloning/genetically modified organisms
  • the «Suffragettes», an organisation set up by women in Britain to fight for the right to vote at the beginning of the 20th Century
  • the Civil Rights Movement in the US characterized by acts of non violent protest and civil disobedience
  • same-sex marriage in several countries across the world
  • access to education for women
  • the end to apartheid in South Africa


Useful and probable questions:

1. What is progress for you ? What types of progress can you think of ?
2. What is the most important form of progress for you?
3. In what way has progress made life better? Can you give examples?
4. Do you think that progress is always positive? Can there be a negative side to progress?
5. What do you think are the most important inventions of the past 50 years?
6. Do you consider the Internet and new technologies represent progress? Why?
7. How has the Internet changed today’s world?
8. Do you consider the consumer society was progress? In what way?
9. How did the Civil Rights Movement bring about progress in America?
10. Do you consider the situation of blacks is regressing today in America? What would MLK
think/say/do about it?
11. What about the world’s situation? Are people’s rights regressing or progressing?
12. Have you experienced any form of progress in your life (recently)?
13. In your opinion, what was the major technological or scientific breakthrough in the last
14. What are the pros and cons of progress?
15. Do you think people were happier before or now? What do you miss from the past? What do you
think is better now?
16. Some say that some inventions are polluting the atmosphere. Do you think we should close down the
factories (the plants) that are polluting? Should we stop the production of goods or energy?
17. Would you say we are living in a progressive society? Are we really moving forward or backward?
18. What makes progress such a divisive issue? Could you give examples of advances/ innovations that
led to a hot debate/ that set people apart?
19. « We ‘ve never had it so good! » a British MP proudly declared in the 50s. Would you say the same
in the early 21st century ?
20. Do you understand technophobes? How do you feel about cutting- edge technology yourself?