Reflections on Modernity

The world has changed dramatically in the roughly 18 years that I’ve had the privilege of living. I was born right on the cusp of the invention of the iPhone. And since about age eight, for better or for worse, I have been watching our society undergo a sequence of near uninterupted transformations. On the one hand, we have revolutionized communications. Information can now be transmitted with unprecedented speed and precision. However, on the other hand, I’ve watched things like the decline of the average person’s attention span and the intensification of the desire for immediate gratification. And, In a sense, this doesn’t require explanation. We continue to invent technology that makes everything more convenient. Why vacuum your own house? Just buy a rumba! Why bother driving yourself anywhere? Just buy a self-driving car! And coming soon : why carry a child? Just have one grown in an artificial womb! Thus, the amount of tasks with which the average person is confronted that require nothing more than a simple push a button or two has grown exponentially. It reminds me of a quote I read from Orwell a number of years ago about the future of humanity. In his vision, the world would become a place in which the principle of convenience was made central and everything would eventually be virtually effortless. Writing that we would “reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle.”

6 Comments

  1. Good points. It’s especially interesting to see alternative birth options. Skipping the experience of allowing a child to grow naturally short-circuits not just the amount of time that a mother’s body changes; but I would venture to guess that it also short-circuits the emotional connection between mother and child. As you say, people skills decline as technology use increases. Humans, as intensely physical beings, lose a unique part of their personality when they interact less and less intentionally with others and make meaningful relational impacts.
    In many ways, technology has made life healthier and enabled many to gain a higher standard of living; but it has also enabled people to disconnect from that which sustained them before, and ought to remain a part of their lives; such as face-to-face communication and manual labor.
    You basically said all of this in your article; I’m just venting. 😉 Good to see you back!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Makayla! I don’t think I could have summarized it better myself. Glad to be back. Last year was busier than any preceding one for me and I often struggled to find much time for writing. But I hope to ensure that doesn’t happen again this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Quite possibly, technology has outpaced our need/desire for it. A rumba would send our poor kitties into cardiac arrest! Self-driving cars … sorry, more flaws than benefits. Technology has a place, for sure, but it won’t replace common sense, won’t replace humanity, compassion, and love. Good to see you again … haven’t seen you around for quite a while!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Each technological advancement presents a different set of trade-offs. I would extend this assertion to intangible indicators of human progress (the evolution of norms and values). It is difficult to assess the magnitude of the positives and drawbacks of each example of material and social progress.

    When we develop new social norms, we need to balance the interests of maintaining tradition with those of marching forward. It is one thing to foster social conventions that censure racism but at the expense of free speech? It becomes another thing when the social conventions become codified in law and carry legal penalties.

    Much like the complex cost-benefit analysis of social progress, the same principle applies to technological advancement. Convenience is good and can save us time and money. However, as you shrewdly point out in your essay, there are drawbacks to leaning too heavily on convenience. Since people tend to have different preferences (e.g. some people will always prefer to vacuum their own homes regardless of the development of more sophisticated robotic vacuums), the averaging out of the collective consensus defining the metric of “moderation” is a long process.

    I will also express that not every step forward is necessarily a step in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agreed sir! I really treasure your feedback.

    Balancing the interests of tradition and innovation is a necessary and difficult task which every generation faces. I think we are reaching a place (what with ChatGPT, virtual reality, and social media) that we don’t yet have the appropriate toolkit to contend with. We usually never put this much stress on our collective capacity for adaption without incurring some form of marked destabilization.

    Moreover, I agree with your point about the fact that there will always be folks who opt to vacuum their houses manually. However, will there always be folks who opt to use a flip phone?

    Like

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