Our relationships with technology are dehumanizing us. First, in our professional lives, work as we presently know it is rapidly giving way to technological solutions and automated processes. This is not confined to repetitive mechanical operations. The exponential improvement in anthropomorphic machines and software that can closely approximate emotional and psychological interaction will negate the need for people in numerous job roles. Secondly, in our personal lives, the increasing use of smart and mobile technologies has created its own dilemmas. We have a shriveled sense of self and a diminishing capacity for community. Descartes’s affirmation that “I think, therefore I am” has dwindled to an existence constructed artificially though a social media edifice that, tweet by tweet, text by text, pixel by pixel, illustrates we are here… our social technological creations seem, if not to have replaced, to have refracted and obscured our physical existence to the point where we are ghosts. Amber Case makes the point that we put more effort into this second, digital self than we do into our analog selves.
These two factors combine to confront us with a challenge to hold on to our humanity. Our technologies seem to promise innumerable acquaintances and an avid audience. But this is a delusion. These technologies also suggest free time and efficiencies, yet the economic indicators point instead to widening inequality and joblessness. As we amplify our sensitivity to digital constructs of people, we diminish our sensitivity to real people. Worse, perhaps, is the growing preference of many people for a non-human interlocutor, such is the paucity of our ability to connect. Machines and technology, in that context, are not aiding social cohesion but are dismantling it.
Yet it is not technology itself that is at the root of this issue. Writing in the New York Times that The Machines Are Coming, Zenyep Tufecki of the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science articulates this pressing threat astutely: “This problem is not us versus the machines, but between us, as humans, and how we value one another.”
We must, as individuals, reacquaint ourselves with the wonder that is the human experience. Recognizing that commonality enriches us all and renders each life meaningful.