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.
My comment isn’t an example that speaks to what you are positing about technology specifically but to the idea that part of “between us, as humans” also includes the idea that we sabotage ourselves. I read an article in the The Guardian written by Polly Vernon where she speaks to her act of curtailing her drinking – which she thought provided much of the joy, connection, and camaraderie in her life – and found that what she believed she gained through drinking was a facade. She realizes now that, without her drinking, she sees and values herself and others more clearly. Makes time for those who are important and has jettisoned those where the relationship was more shallow, based on this one commonality. I feel that same way about Facebook. Having deactivated nearly three years ago I chose to focus more fully on the relationships that have deeper meaning to me personally. Instead of spreading myself thinly to many, I can delve deeply with few. Quitting Facebook stopped me sabotaging how I spent my time, where I spent my energy, and waiting for that positive, superficial reinforcement. This is not to say that I believe technology to be a blight on our lives, not at all, with Facebook, I did this to myself. What I am saying, in a very long-winded way, is that technology can hurt however we should also examine our own culpability.
I agree that we do sabotage ourselves. It isn’t the job of technology to negotiate its relationship with humans (at least, not yet… ) or for technology to define how humans should relate to each other; this is our task. How we address our addictions to distraction, whether through social media, alcohol, substances or “busyness,” must be up to us, and it is a challenge you clearly have confronted.
I particularly enjoy this comment:
“Instead of spreading myself thinly to many, I can delve deeply with few.”
Jack of all trades, master of none. The phrase describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. The same can be translated to Facebook “friends”. I can count on one hand how many of my 218 facebook “friends” I actually speak to at least once per week. I will admit it’s nice to have that “connection” in case I need to quickly reach out to one of them, but too many people like to classify themselves by how many online friends they have.
Online interaction truly is degrading real interactions. There is actually a new term for offline friends; IRL. In Real Life. I felt a bit disappointed when I first saw that acronym used. Just the fact that we have to specifically reference real life.
I #think, therefore I #am.
Thanks Dusty. I share your dismay at the need for terms to describe interaction with the physical world we sense in real, embodied terms (but let’s not drift too far into a phenomenological philosophical discussion!) The context by which we value friendships is an interesting one. We have morphed into a celebrity, personality culture where fame is prized over character. Your reflections on the number of Facebook friends you have is refreshingly self aware. Thanks for the conversation Dusty.