Fear of technology is not a particularly new phenomenon. It is, however, a critically misunderstood one. In truth, it is becoming incredibly difficult for one to speak of the dwindling human spirit at the mercy of technology while being taken seriously.
While it may be tempting to view various technological devices as incredible human achievements, there is almost always a considerable danger present. Most suspect this in a vague sort of way. However, frequently this danger is something that remains unclear and never reaches the inmost gradation of consciousness necessary to resonate in any meaningful way.
Credit: freedigitalphotos.net David Castillo
All too often, simple arguments against technology serve as distractions for the real danger present at hand. It is my experience that attacking technology in and of itself tends to be a practice in frivolity and short-sightedness. Instead, I believe that a more fruitful endeavor lies in the questioning of human beings relationship toward technology.
Sherry Turkle, renowned author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has spent much of her life studying technology and its effects on individuals. At a TED talk she gave entitled “Alone Together,” Turkle pointed out that technology has become such a major part of our everyday lives that the new generational slogan under the modern age should be something akin to, “I share therefore I am.”
Speaking on how technology distracts us from the real world and, in doing so, negatively affects our relationships, Turkle cited her observations of the use of cell phone devices at dinner tables and meetings. In addition to this, she proclaimed that technology could potentially negatively affect the psyche of individuals. “What isn’t being exalted is the ability to be alone. To gather oneself.” She continued, “We risk losing our capacity for the kind of solitude that energizes and restores.”
Sharing Turkle’s concerns about technology, albeit from a different angle, is the towering German philosopher Martin Heidegger. In 1954, Heidegger published an essay entitled “On The Question Concerning Technology.” In it, he noted how human beings’ modern view of technology was troubling and worthy of serious questioning. The reasons for this radical questioning ultimately stem from what the philosopher viewed as modernity’s distorted notion of “truth.”
For Heidegger, truth is a revealing process which inhabits more than mere “facts.” Truth is how we relate to our world and “being.” Yet, this is not something that comes through in our technological worldview. Truth, in modernity, no longer makes itself known primarily via religion, art, or reflection. It comes by way of data tables and chart graphs.
Under the technological worldview, memories are no longer meaningful recollections; they are objective data to be stored and cataloged. Friends are no longer cherished beings which demand our affection; they are organized entities on a networking site in which information flows forth. The world is no longer our home; it is something other in which resources must be extracted from.
Thus, our current relationship to technology which informs our technological worldview robs us of the ambiguity that is inherent to our world experience. In addition to this, it clouds our thinking in ways that are actually contrary to our genuine experience of the world.
What’s worst of all, however, is that this worldview subtly injects suspicion into individuals when any other mode in which truth reveals itself other than via technological means springs forth. For precisely this reason, it seems undeniably the fact of this era that there is one language that reigns supreme: the language of technology.
From a biological point of view, many of Turkle and Heidegger’s troubling assertions seem to be affirmed. In speaking of the negative consequences stemming from the modern generation’s addictive relationship to technology, neuroscientist Susan Greenfield cites shorter attention spans and reduced personal communication skills in her article for the Daily Mail on the subject. In addition to this, she also cites a decrease in abstract thinking.
As Greenfield further goes on to note, certain types of technology “have an impact on the micro- cellular structure and complex biochemistry of our brains. And that, in turn, affects our personality, our behavior and our characteristics.” She concludes by stating that she feels optimistic about what future research will reveal about the human brain but that she feels “concerned” that the current generation seems to be unaware of “the dangers that are already upon us.”
Ultimately, these dangers lie not in technology. Rather, they are to be observed through a whole era which believes technology to be the only way for human beings to conform to the world. We remain, as Heidegger noted, “unfree and chained to technology,” as stated in his basic writings.
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