Skip to main content

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences.

Tenner E. New York, NY: Knopf; 1996. ISBN: 0679425632.

March 27, 2005
Tenner E. New York, NY: Knopf; 1996. ISBN: 0679425632.

Tenner’s discussions of medical and nonmedical examples provide an engaging introduction to the many ways in which new technologies can have unintended consequences. Side effects of any technology are well known and well studied. What interests Tenner, however, are “revenge effects,” which he defines as the exact opposite of the intended effects of a new technology. For instance, the widespread availability of computers in offices and homes was heralded as ushering in a new, paperless world. Instead, paper use sky-rocketed. From a safety perspective, numerous examples exist in which making something safer simply encouraged more reckless behavior. Health care examples often involve a safer version of a drug or procedure, which then becomes overused. At the population level, then, adverse events do not decrease and may even increase. For instance, laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a much less morbid procedure than open cholecystectomy. It is this feature of the laparoscopic procedure that resulted in a significant increase in the number of patients referred for removal of their gallbladder, to the point that morbidity and mortality at the population level did not improve as a result of this major advance in surgical technology.