Thursday, January 11, 2018

Six Core Detrimental Aspects of Technology

In my studies of technology, I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon: credible proponents of technology tend to concede its disadvantages.   Admittedly, this may be chicken-or-egg, in that it is their willingness to concede imperfections that creates a sense credibility as opposed to the fanatics who deny any possibility of imperfection.   But having noticed this tendency, I’ve gone back through my reading notes to find common themes, and have noticed nine themes that seem to be repeated:

1. Technology Debilitates the Mind

A common criticism of technology is that id debilitates the mind.   Because we have spreadsheet and word processing software, the literacy and numeracy of the general population has suffered greatly: distressingly many people cannot spell words or do simple addition in their heads because they have become reliant on technology to do it for them, so they do not practice or do not even develop the basic skills.

In one sense, being able to automate basic tasks and devote the mind to higher concerns is a benefit – but the loss of basic understanding can have catastrophic results when one has the ability to do something without the foundational knowledge to understand quite why it is done.   What occurs in that situation is paralysis rather than advancement: anyone can perform at a certain level, but the level cannot be advanced because the foundational knowledge has been lost.

2. Technology Makes Us Lose Touch with Reality

Technology depends on reducing reality to a simplistic mathematical model, ignoring what the creator of the technology does not know or does not understand.    There is a quality of unreality that comes with anything virtual, and those whose primary experiences are virtual form a foundational set of knowledge and believes that is relevant only to events that conform to the simplistic model on which the technology is based.

For practical purposes, this handicaps those who are dependent on technology with the notion that if their favored technology cannot do something, then it simple cannot be done.   For qualitative purposes, the reduction to a simple model creates blinders to factors that are not considered by that model, which may be of significant importance to the overall qualitative experience.   We lose touch with the richness of reality by accepting the limitations of technology.

3. Technology is Dehumanizing

In order to succeed in any system, a person must adopt the qualities of that system – and if a person does so for a long enough period of time, they do not merely adopt these qualities, but internalize them: they become the kind of person they pretend to be in order to be successful within a limited system defined by artificial rules – which may not be the kind of person they need to be to succeed in any other system without the limitations and rules.

This may seem abstract, but consider the impact of social media on the social skills, particularly of the younger generation: to be successful in social media, one must present a false-front in a system that has no restriction or discouragement for behavior that is not acceptable outside of that system: hence individuals whose primary socialization took place in the virtual world are often ill-suited to socializing in face-to-face encounters.   This has long ben true of a small number of isolates, considered “geeks” or “nerds:” by mainstream society, but has recently become evident in the general population.

4. Technology is Always On, but People are Not

Human beings have a limited amount of time – the waking hours of the day at most, but even less given that our ability to maintain attentiveness is even more limited than that.   Where technology is constantly intruding, relentlessly prompting to mind to action, the quality of experience is considerably diminished.   We are not “always on” but “always zombified,” overdrawing our reserves of time and attention to do things in the most efficient and least effective manner.

The problem is compounded by the self-involvement of technology: each technology considers itself to be the most important need of the moment, and struggles to gain top-of-mind acceptance.  The human mind is unable to focus on or prioritize its own workload with so many technologies screaming “look at me” at every given moment.  Smartphone addiction is a common example: workers are texting with their friends when they ought to be giving attention to their work, and answering work-related emails when they ought to be giving attention to their families, because their priorities are structured by technology rather than common sense.

5. Technology Fragments Identity and Promotes Inauthenticity

It is only within the past few hundred years that humanity has been faced with the necessity of serving in multiple and distinct social roles and the awkwardness that occurs when those roles overlap – leading to the fragmentation of identity and personality.   That is, our success in a role depends on the adoption of a personal that is capable of being successful in that role – and while we have had limited success managing three or four core identities, technology is demanding that we adopt dozens, role-switch constantly, and often face the awkwardness of overlapping roles.

This will lead inexorably to an inexorable crisis of identity: when I must be so many different things to different people at different times, which of these personas represents my true self?   This existential crisis is already evident in popular culture, which has failed to evolve or produce anything new in two decades – it is simply adopting and adapting, trying to be many things at once, and failing in having an integral identity.

6. Technology is Fragmenting

The emergence and adoption of technology fragments social groups into the “haves” and “have-nots” of that technology, and it takes considerable time for a technology to achieve ubiquity.  Arguably, ubiquity is never achieved: even in the present day, there are households and communities that do not share in centuries-old technologies such as electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, and paved roads.   And in considering such things to be ubiquitous, the “haves” distance themselves further from the “have-nots”: anyone who does not “have” is not important, not worth considering even as a member of humanity.

The problem is that it’s not just one technology that creates such a schism, but every technology.  What results is a complex binary matrix that creates very small segments of society that have or have-not a specific subset of technologies that contribute to membership and participation in a given subset of culture.  And the result is a culture so fragmented that it makes very basic questions unanswerable: what is culture?  What is society?  Such things, once very basic to human identity, are absent in technologically advanced locations.

Other Detriments

Outside of those six, there remains a rather large list of detrimental factors – I have recorded a total of twenty-seven – but many of them seem trifling compared to those core six, or a subset of one of those categories.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading a striking sentence back in 1996 about how the dissolution of common culture fostered by a then-newborn Internet might be unavoidable. The negative impact of that, however, would be more than offset by the increasingly smaller-but-more-meaningful interactions among like-minded individuals.

    So the circle of community just keeps getting smaller until we're in an echo chamber. Yikes.