Technological Befuddlement and Modernity

Some things are just odd about the technological wonder world that we inhabit. I am inclined to think that whatever contributions technology has made to society, those contributions don’t include assisting us become better people. For that hope, we must turn elsewhere. Instead, technology just seems to exacerbate many of the problems that were already a part of the nature of modernity

Our lives are littered with technology. It makes modern life, convenient, efficient, and glamorous. We all are dazzled by it, myself included. I am just as eager to get my hands on the latest Apple product as the next guy. In addition, technology frees us from some of the annoyances of life, giving us more time to do as we please. And with that free time that technology has so graciously afforded us, we pour a good bit of it right back into the same technology that given us such leisure time in the first place. Does this not strike you as, at the very least, a bit strange?

Historically, when societies have been peaceful and prosperous, creativity, knowledge and the arts have abounded, since people were able to focus their attention to things other than fighting off neighboring countries or struggling to subsist off the land.
One might think that the proliferation of technology might produce a similar result–an explosion of knowledge, creativity, etc. But have we really seen such an improvement?

Is technology simply a means, that when used appropriately can lead to human flourishing and when used inappropriately leads to isolation and disillusionment?

Or is there something about the current state of technology that fundamentally changes the way society is structured such that we are left with a framework that by its very nature encourages isolation and disillusionment?

These are open questions and are intended to merely promote reflection on the strange situation that my generation finds itself in. Certainly, technology is not going away any time soon, but some reflection might still be helpful to understand our own context and how we might better approach the ways we interact with technology.

It is hard to deny that technology has made us more productive, increasing economic output and further advancing globalization. This is good. But is increased economic output and a healthy and growing GDP the utmost concern when we consider the manner in which the structure of society shapes individuals? Does a society whose main end is producing wealth generate virtuous flourishing people?

Technology has enabled communication and organization in astounding ways. Yet, somehow all of this communication and structure has not seemed to help us feel less alienated from the world.True personal connections become difficult; minimalistic exchanges become the norm. I worry that these ways of communication distort our conceptions of humans as people, and in turn negatively effect the way we treat people. Consider how it is now possible to break off a romantic relationship via text message. If we consider technological communication to be an advancement or an improvement or at the least equivalent to face to face communication, then why does breaking off such a relationship via text message seem to denigrate the people involved? Such an action seems almost cruel and inhumane.

In the interest of efficiency, our technological means of communicating have increasingly abstracted us from true interpersonal communication, such that the entirety of the other person is not available to us when communicating. This in turn also abstracts the dignity and courtesy that we normally attribute to people–distorting, in some cases, our conception of person-hood.

To more fully grasp how such an abstraction might happen consider, by way of analogy, how money has the possibility of abstracting and distorting our understanding of people. Unless a CEO makes willed effort to relate to the workers in his company, one could see how easily it might be for him to treat the employees as merely means to increasing the wealth of his company, each person’s worth being contingent on her monetary value to the company.

So what might be an appropriate response to this situation? Are social norms regarding the use of technology to communicate sufficient to prevent a distortion of our concept of person? Or do we need to structure our lives in such a way to counteract the danger of abstraction from other persons? Again, these are open questions, but they are questions that require coherent answers if we are interested in promoting a society that treats people and their capacity for communication appropriately.


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