Friday, March 19, 2010

Reflections on the Effects of Technology

I was at a camp not long ago with my youth and I had reinforced to me what I have noticed in passing a few times before- That kids nowadays are entirely dependent on technology, particularly networking technology. They play games in a virtual world with people all over the world. Their social lives revolve in large part around social networking web-sites. Their source of information is form internet sites that are collectively composed by people from across the globe (and people with no particular qualifications for writing said articles, we might add). They simply cannot survive without these bits of technology, it might seem.

Now, before I get into a critique of the effect this is having on our society, let me say I am not totally exempt from this. I am typing this right now on a laptop that is connected to my blog (itself technological) via wireless internet. I have my own social networking accounts that I check fairly frequently (in fact, my Twitter is open in another tab at this very moment). My predominant mode of communication is e-mail or texting. I am very much a part of this technological world as well. But my point in saying all this still applies, I think.

Here are three detrimental effects that I believe being dependent on technology has on our society:
1) Disconnects us from reality.
2) Disconnects us from history and the broader world.
3) Disconnects us from our values and from the process of building true character.

First, we are disconnected from reality by technology. This is pretty obvious. Playing a video game that simulates a battle is not a battle. The real thing, with real bullets flying and real blood splattering across you, is not something you do for fun. But it seems like it would be to plenty of people I know who have played video games and maybe even tried to really simulate a battle by playing paint-ball or air-soft. Chatting on a social networking site is not the same thing as sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation. Yet we substitute them far too often. The virtual world is not the real world. Unfortunately, its becoming harder and harder to tell the difference.

Second, technology disconnects us from history and the broader world. We sometimes think it actually brings us closer to those things- we talk and interact with people across the globe online. But we are not entering their world and they are not entering ours. We are both entering a different world, one that isn't real but in which we both pretend to interact and live for a little while. In this world, who we are in "real life" is irrelevant. I am an expert when I write something online. And so is everyone else. I can't tell you how many times I have run across ideas and philosophies online in discussions that were discredited or disproven 80 years ago but that the author takes seriously because they are his/her "own" ideas. Or how many rumors or stories have run wild across the internet because in that world everything is plausible and nothing has to be verified or scrutinized. It simply is not in check with reality.

Third, technology disconnects us from who we really are and how we become that way. I can be whoever I want to be online. Those of you who know me probably recognize that I am tremendously more bold in writing online than I am in speaking in person (though I am probably close to being every bit as sarcastic in person as I am here). I am also much more polished and elegant. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you met me after reading these blogs, you might be very disappointed. And likewise, this is probably true of most people you might "meet" online. Because here, you don't actually meet the person in question, you meet the persona they have adopted for the sake of being in this virtual world. What's more, this persona can be created in about a second and a half. It doesn't have to go through all the process of developing its own character that I myself have to go through over the course of my life. It is simply a fabrication that appears instantaneously in its fully developed state.

In a lot of ways, this virtual world is much more desirable if our values are simply easy pleasure, having a good time, making ourselves happy. However, if we really want to be meaningful human beings who really care about this world and about other people, I feel like the effects of technology should be really, really alarming. In fact, I think that this technology, which represents the pinnacle of the progress of our society, is going to be in the long run the thing that destroys our society from the inside by undermining the lives and thoughts of people in the real world.

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