Socrates Exchange: Has technology helped or hurt us?
Since the beginning of time, human beings have been making tools to make life easier, better, faster or more efficient, but is that always a good thing? Are human beings happier today, whether individually or collectively, because of telephones, washing machines, text-messaging cell-phones, and iPods? Are there limitations on how much technology we should produce, or allow in our lives?
- Max Latona, Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Anselm College
Socrates Exchange at Souhegan High
As part of this month's discussion, Executive Producer Keith Shields brought the discussion question to three classes at Souhegan High School.
Few among us can remember a time before ATM’s, mass media, automobiles, and iPods. What was life like in a time less saturated by technology than our own? Was every day unbearably difficult without the comforts provided by modern technology? Was each hour a struggle against the natural world, human limitation, and death? Or was satisfaction simpler, somehow found more easily? Was social interaction more authentic and enjoyable? This month on the Socrates Exchange we discuss whether our cell phones and computers make us happier or not and in what ways.
Interestingly, there still exist cultures and communities who choose to pass on the technology. Undoubtedly this decision baffles many of us. How can these people not recognize the benefits of technology? A prime example of the benefits afforded by technology can be found in the revolutionary advancements made in medicine in the last century. X-rays, prosthetics, heart monitors, and medication are just a few examples of medical technology that allows us to live healthier. Isn’t health an essential ingredient in our happiness? But many still choose to pass on these technological advances in favor of alternative therapies, herbal remedies, and natural curatives, which they claim result in the same level of health and happiness. Which is right? Does technology make us healthier and happier?
What about the much discussed correlation between technology and interpersonal relationships? Nowadays, our leisure time is filled largely in front of televisions and computers. Do these forms of entertainment negatively impact our social interactions? Can our ability to relate to other human beings survive as more and more technology surrounds us, or does it make more sense to return to spending our free time in bowling alleys and ice cream parlors? Social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter keep us updated concerning even the most mundane details in the lives of our family and friends. Does this breed in us an inauthentic and superficial form of interest in the lives of our loved ones?
We must also ponder the impact modern technology has had on our environment. There is no question the face of our planet is being changed by technology. Scientists almost universally acknowledge that the carbon emissions from many of our technological devices are warming our earth. Considering this what course should technology take in the future? Can technology be used to help us live a healthier, more environmentally sustainable way of life? Or is the best solution a change in lifestyle which limits the role technology plays?
Throughout all of these questions about technology we are asking about human happiness. What relationship to technology will bring us the most fulfillments? DO we need a more technologically savvy society? Should we perhaps be opting for detechnologized communities? Were humans happier 5000 years ago without modern technology, when life was difficult but simple? Does technology provide us with a means for achieving a greater happiness the likes of which were previously unknown to humanity? That’s what we’ll be talking about in this, our next Socrates Exchange.
Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam – An analysis of the diminishing time Westerners spend taking part in social activities. Putnam looks at Bowling as a key example and places the blame for the decline largely on the shoulders of technology.
The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger – A penetrating look at the essence of technology in the modern world.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A fictional account of a future in which an excess of technology has led to the banning of books.
2001: A Space Odyssey (film) – Stanley Kubrick’s sweeping epic spans from the origins of human technology to the space age where astronaut David Bowman finds himself in a dangerous relationship with the spaceship’s computer HAL.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn – The novel uses a style of Socratic dialogue to deconstruct the notion that humans are the end product, the pinnacle of biological evolution. It posits that human supremacy is a cultural myth, and asserts that modern civilization is "enacting" that myth.
WALL-E (film) – 2008 computer-animated science fiction film that follows the story of a robot named WALL-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class) that’s spent the last 700 years cleaning up the mess humans left behind when they vacated the planet. Humans have become flabby blobs, trapped in their hover chairs while being served by countless robots. WALL-E eventually falls in love with another robot named EVE, and follows her into outer space on an adventure that changes the destiny of both his kind and humanity.
Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization (1934) - addresses the perennial question of how technology can lead to both benefit and ruin.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) is a reference to the Greek myth of how fire was stolen from the gods and given to man- fire being a metaphor for technology and/or knowledge. Probably the best modern rendering of the utopian/dystopian connection between technology and human life.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932). One is presented with a world where technology has not only made life safe and completely sanitary but has also created a world where all human passion has been replaced by the drug-induced enjoyment of our basic desire for sex and being entertained.