Much more than you think…though allow me some explanation.
Human beings like to invent new stuff to make life easier on themselves. I am not talking the “stuff” of late night infomercials like self-cleaning mops or an ab exercise gadget; rather the kind of stuff we have invented throughout human history that make our lives more manageable and, in many case, enjoyable. Don’t think the “As Seen on TV!” stuff like the “Ped-Egg” -think more general inventions like the wheel, language, penicillin or the map.
Our inventions, or new technologies, can be divided up into four general types (I thank Nicholas Carr, in part, for this) with many inventions blurring the distinction of each category with some crossover. The first type of invention involves increasing and extending the human’s physical strength –the plow, the darning needle, the car, the gun, fighter jets- as all of these serve to do far more good (or damage) than a human alone could do. These inventions assist us in gaining physical dominance over our environment and better control over what happens around us.
The second type of invention involves extending the human’s five senses -for example, the microscope, the amplifier, binoculars, or hearing aids. I suppose these could be called the “superhuman” category as each allows us to perform tasks that our natural five senses alone could never perform at the assisted level.
The third category concerns itself with serving our personal needs and desires, like the invention of the knife and fork, birth control, Viagra (not that I would know anything about that) or genetically modified foods. Of course the automobile, for example, was invented to help us serve our personal needs as well, yet its more dominant characteristic is a quantum leap in travel technology…helping us to gain more control over the restraints of our physical lives.
Lastly, the fourth set of technologies include extending our intellectual abilities –from the rudimentary abacus, to the clock, the printing press, the typewriter and the computer just to name a few of millions. These inventions are used for the purpose of extending our cognitive mental abilities, to better perform tasks, measure theories and ideas, and memorize important data. In contemporary society, perhaps our cell phone is the single most quantum leap in intellectual inventions in the history of mankind.
New ideas and technologies are typically soundly rejected at first notice (excluding aforementioned Viagra, of course). The five-step acceptance process of new inventions goes something like this: Initial rejection (“If man was meant to fly God would have given us wings!”); reluctant use (“I will do it just this once because I have no other choice.”); regular begrudging use (“Sure I will use it but I sure don’t like it…it still makes me uncomfortable”); dependency (“I now cannot imagine a world without airplanes!”); to, finally, invisibility in which the technology is now so woven into the basic tapestry of the culture it becomes so normal as to be invisible.
I saw this in my lifetime with the cell phone. From the, “I will never use it” motto to the, “only in emergencies” phase to the, “just when I drive” fairytale -and then leapfrog to the, “where the hell is my damn cell phone? A part of me is lost!” contemporary milieu. It is now invisibly a part of us.
It is this fifth and final stage that worries me. When a technology becomes invisible we tend to stop evaluating its consequences on a culture.
In 2013 we are living in the future. This is it. (Check out this book my son just showed me this morning). We are soaking in it. Through technologies our lives have become so inoculated against so much harm, against so much pain, against so much danger while things have transitioned to be considerably easier for us than at any time in human history…and we are experiencing its consequences.
We have conquered the fear of germs with anti-bacterial technology everywhere…and today we suffer allergies for everything we once never thought possible. The GPS makes us a collective society that cannot navigate its way out of a paper bag without its use. The constant permeation of computer generated everything makes handwriting and penmanship a thing of the past (we actually had classes in penmanship growing up kids!). Our “social” networking is usually performed, ironically, alone and our social phobia’s are growing among the young.
Though perhaps nothing is more telling of where we are at as a society is the story that rests at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
I enjoy reading different non-fiction (I cannot read fiction for some reason) and several years ago I read an excellent book covering every known death in the Grand Canyon. It was an incredibly well documented book, aptly entitled, “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon” written by two medical doctors. It is not an exploitative book at all, rather it asks the questions who and why? What can we learn from these deaths?
I found this particular passage very insightful and applicable to this blog:
“But for American society in general it can be argued that, in our generations-long quest for security, we have domesticated ourselves. We train and hire specialists to do everything for us so that we do not have to take the risks of doing it ourselves. We hire police…contractors…farmers…programmers…Ralph Nader to make our cars and skies safe…we have airbags and parachutes and orthopaedic surgeons and seat belts and life vests and helmets to protect us when something goes wrong…We are no longer wild Homo sapiens. Instead, psychologically, many of us are sheep, or if you prefer, Homo sapien domesticus…many of us now make the habitual and unquestioned assumption that somebody else is supposed to be watching out for our best interests for us. We blindly follow the rest of the flock and assume that the sheepherder, wherever he is, is keeping his eye peeled for the wolves.”
In some ways, that sheepherder is our technologies that coddle and protect us. Though, in the long run, do they?
You have been riddled Batman. All are, in part, the result of living presently in the future.
Welcome to the future your mother warned you about.