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.”

The smart phone has subsumed the bulk of the things that formerly made up our everyday lives. One can read or watch just about anything via the smart phone. We can bank, do taxes, market and sell. Order and have delivered close to anything, from almost anywhere, at nearly anytime. Participate instantaneously in virtual calls with people around the world. This has caused the number of face-to-face interactions we have to nosedive. For many, that clerk at the grocery store or teller at the bank whom you once were in the habit of making small talk with has been replaced with the impersonal promtings of the Instacart or Chase mobile banking. It’s now possible for many folks to sustain themeselves without ever having to leave home. However, in isolation, our social skills seem to be fast becoming increasingly more dull.

With all this technology has also come the loss of privacy. One can hardly travel anywhere anymore without being tracked. Your personal data is being harvested (the websites you visit, the purchases you make, etc.) often times without your consent. True, such technology is not forced upon anyone, and so one might argue that such intrusion is far from inevitable. But, when the majority of your fellow countrymen are more than willing to pay the price, it isn’t as if you can easily refuse to yourself (consider, for example, the plight of those who insist on keeping their flip-phones). 

Another problem is that screens, especially certain applications, games, and platforms can be highly addictive. Not least for adults. Yet, many parents are giving them to their children. It reminds me of how subsequent to the invention of the calculator, many insisted that every student of arithmetic be provided with one. Thus, cultivation of mental arithmetic skills was no longer necessary. The calculator would give you all the answers you needed, instantly. Hardly anyone pointed out that just because the calculator was invented and made relatively affordable didn’t mean that it needed to become an essential desk item for students. As a consequence, along with a number of other factors, we produced a few generations of people who are significantly less proficient at mental arithmetic than some of their not-so-distant ancestors quite a few of which never made it beyond the 8th grade. The lesson to be learned ; just because something new emerges doesn’t mean we should embrace it headlong without first considering deeply the likely and possible long term implications on society.


  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.

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  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!

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  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?


    1. Sorry Dylan, for some reason I missed your reply.

      I think you have a great point that we don’t have we often don’t have the appropriate informal institutions to adequately perform this balancing test. After all, how do we set reasonable parameters for determining how much social media usage is excessive?

      You also have a good point about flip phones. I think with phones several other factors come into play. Our society has become so attached to smartphones; they are a status symbol that has evolved into a quasi-necessity.

      Some stores have even made various promotions and coupons only accessible through QR codes only accessible through mobile devices. Plus, there is some social censure for obstinately resisting “upgrading”. This seems like the smartphone has become an entrenched fixture in our society(at least for now).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember the QR Code menu was very common in Arizona during the pandemic. Fortunately, this practice has waned in the past couple of years.

        Then again, the trade offs of technological advancement and COVID aside; at some restaurants the menus are downright disgusting (always sticky).

        Then again that may be a clear indicator to eat elsewhere.

        I suppose technology cuts both ways. It can be very beneficial, but it can make us lazy and dependent on it.

        Liked by 1 person

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