Are technologies humanizing us?


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Are technologies humanizing us?

It’s easier for us to call than to meet in person. Or write a message – so there is no need to listen to the answer. By sending an e-mail, we hide even our own voice from the interlocutor. And instant messengers allow you to reduce communication to a minimum. Every step along this path leads us away from emotions and humanity, says writer Jonathan Foer.

My grandfather, the father of my father, could not see his children before birth. He had to be content with imagination, putting his hand to his wife’s rounded belly. And my father could already – and for the first time saw me on the screen thanks to technology invented at one time in order to detect defects in the hulls of ships. And his imagination was already directed by streams of ultrasonic waves flowing around my body.

Obstetrician Ian Donald from Glasgow, having thought of moving the ultrasound unit from the shipyard to the doctor’s office, believed that the opportunity to see more unborn children would encourage mothers to love them more and reduce the number of abortions. However, this technology subsequently began to be used including for termination of pregnancy. And not only for medical reasons in case of obvious developmental defects, but even in situations where the parents simply did not like the gender of the unborn child.

To witness a miracle, it is not at all necessary to believe in it, you can simply encounter it

It is obvious that today the classic black and white ultrasound images play an important role in matters of life and death. But we make decisions on these issues. What prepares us for these decisions and how?

Expecting the first child, my wife and I heatedly argued: is it worth knowing his gender in advance. I decided to ask the opinion of my uncle, a famous gynecologist. Uncle never was neither inclined to give advice, nor a craving for spirituality.

However, his answer was quite clear: “Do not do this. When a doctor looks at the screen and tells you the floor, you are dealing with information. When a child is born and you see everything for yourself, you are dealing with a miracle. ” I do not believe in miracles, but followed the advice. Uncle was right. As it turned out, in order to witness a miracle, it is not at all necessary to believe in it, you can simply encounter it.

Psychologists studying empathy and compassion have long established: for example, the brain responds to physical pain, for example. And “assessing the psychological and moral aspects of a given situation” requires some time. In other words, the depth of experience and comprehension is directly related to time costs.

For this reason, concentrating on the speed of obtaining information and preferring placers of emoticons and lines of SMS messages to hundreds of pages of novels, we sacrifice the ability to empathize. Simone Weil wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. It is easy to understand that our relations with the world, with each other and with ourselves are becoming less and less generous.

A thick novel requires a lot from the reader, but above all – attention. I can do almost anything, listening to music or watching TV. I can chat with a friend, looking at the paintings at the exhibition. But while reading the novel, I am forced to devote myself only to the book, putting everything else aside. The novel teaches empathy and expands the horizons of my ideas, it requires attention – and thus makes me show generosity. Including in relation to himself.

We think we use technology to save time. But increasingly, they, on the contrary, are taking this time from us

We are used to thinking about technology as a means of expanding and improving our capabilities. Google, as everyone knows, organizes and makes the world of information accessible. The car allows you to develop a speed that we can’t achieve on our own, and the bomb helps to quickly and easily kill a bunch of enemies that we couldn’t handle with our bare hands. But technology is not only effective, it is also affective. They affect us and are not limited to technology alone.

A declaration of love made on a date, sounded on the phone, written by hand or sent in the form of SMS, will be perceived very differently – even if the confessor puts all the strength and depth of his feelings into it. The expression of the eyes, the sound of the voice and the intonation of the speech, the slope and shape of the letters, finally, the font pre-installed by the phone manufacturer – all this affects the very meaning of the words.

Are technologies humanizing us?

Most communication technologies were born as a kind of “prosthesis” – attempts to replace what we do not have. We can’t meet and talk with the man – well, here is the phone to call him. And if he is not at home, then here is an answering machine to dictate the message. Similarly, online communication was born as a replacement for telephone communications. Then SMS arrived in time, making communication even faster and more mobile. But none of these technologies was designed to improve our communication with each other. Simplify, replace, limiting to any extent acceptable, yes. But not to improve.

And then a strange thing happened. We began to give preference to these “prostheses”, simplified and limited replacements. It’s easier for us to call than to meet in person. And dictating a message to an answering machine is even easier – there is no need to listen to the answer. And now we are choosing for the call the moment when our addressee is definitely not at home.

Sending a message by e-mail is even easier – we hide even our own voice from the interlocutor. And messages reduce our communication costs and create another shell to hide. Every step forward on this path is a step towards information, but away from our ability to do the work of emotions, from our own humanity.

Resisting new technologies is the only solution that is even more stupid than their full and unconditional adoption.

But the problem is that by accepting these reduced versions of communication, and then giving them preference, we ourselves become simplified versions of human beings. Accustomed to say less, we feel less and less. Or maybe we feel only what we are supposed to feel from the point of view of developers and sellers of communication devices.

Like many of my friends, I am concerned that the mobile phone and the Internet impoverish my life, replace the depth of experience with momentary brightness and do not allow me to concentrate on what is really important.

Once I found out that I was checking mail while I was bathing my children in the bathroom, or browsing sites aimlessly when the proposal I had started was not completed, and an important idea was not formulated yet. And on a fine spring day, I happened to look for a thicker shadow so that the sun would not glare on the phone screen. And didn’t this happen to you?

Does this mean that modern technologies, in the form in which they have filled our daily lives, belittle our significance? And is this process gaining strength? We think we use technology to save time. But increasingly, they are the other way around – they take this time from us. And if they leave it at our disposal, then it is not too high-quality, rich and deep.

It bothers me that as we increasingly feel the “world at our fingertips”, it gets farther away from our hearts. This is not a choice of “either – or”: to oppose new technologies is the only solution that is even more stupid than their full and unconditional adoption. No, this is a matter of balance, but the balance that defines our life.

Surely the day will come when the smart nanorobots implanted in the body get to the heart and identify problems much earlier than we feel the first symptoms of the problems and consult a doctor. And other nanorobots will repair the heart, so dexterously that we will not feel pain and will not spend time or money on treatment. Will it be a miracle? Yes, but only for those whose heart retains the ability to perceive miracles. In essence, this is the main ability for which the heart is generally worth saving and repairing.

About the Author: Jonathan Safran Foer is an American writer, author of several novels that have become international bestsellers, including “Terribly Loud and Extremely Close” and “Full Illumination” (Exmo, 2013, 2014). In 2010, TheNewYorker magazine included Foer in the list of 20 best writers under the age of 40.
Prepared by: George Zaitsev
Photo Source: Getty images

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