News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Gadgets, Addictions, and Knowing The Biological Sub-Routine Called the Soul

Monday, January 16, 2006

Gadgets, Addictions, and Knowing The Biological Sub-Routine Called the Soul

In the 1930s, the Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev made a somewhat startling observation. Human beings will soon face the day, he wrote, when they and machines will share the same ontological status. In more common terms, this observation says that humans will become so bound up with the machines that they will find it difficult to distinguish what it means to be human anymore.

There’s a sense to Berdyaev’s words that has become almost trite and ho-hum. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we’d die without our computers or our gadgets. …

Among the many addictions now afflicting Americans and those in the first world is that of being addicted to our gadgets. The addiction is seen in its most extreme cases in those who cannot tear themselves away from their computer keyboards. There are even anecdotal stories of people attacking family members when the latter try to take away their computer privileges.

The idea that humans have become so reliant on their gadgets that many in America might find it difficult to deal with life were they to lose their gadgets is almost trite. Think of the businessperson whose life seems contained in their Blackberry. Advertisements for a cell-phone even has as its slogan, “it’s your life in there,” referring to the cell phone and its phone numbers and stored pictures.

The way that gadgets have taken over our lives is borne out by the following description in a Washington Post article :

In these multitasking, hyperkinetic, gadget-obsessed times -- when 19-year-old Daisy Castillo feels "naked" without her cell phone, when 27-year-old Sonia Gioseffi "can't do cardio at the gym" on the treadmill without her iPod -- it helps to have a few rules in place, no matter how arbitrary, no matter how nonsensical, while clicking our lives away in the techno-sphere. We want control. Or, more to the point, we like to think we are in control.
The article goes on to describe ways that people try to limit the control technology has over their lives. There are even pointers and tips in the article on when enough is enough. No doubt, there will soon be how-to books on how to ween oneself away from this technology addiction. Are “Computer Users Anonymous” groups far behind?

Again, so much seems obvious. Who hasn’t seen The Matrix and any number of movies about either the apocalypse of becoming machine or the utopia of becoming machine? What these films do, however, is something that many miss—whether for or against technology, whether bemoaning the catastrophes inherent in technology gone amok or blissing out on the potential of becoming “transhuman,”—they seem equally devoid of the mundane effects that machines have in our lives. And it is at this common-place, everyday level of use where machines make their presence felt.

You are not going to convince the technophile American that there’s much wrong with making the better mouse trap or being able to run their business from their phone. It’s perhaps a truism that every American male is in love with their car, but the attraction of finding an easier way to do anything is always going to win arguments over what the best way to act is.

The question of what it means to be a human has been a constant within human history. The tension between seeing what is possible and what reality allows is the continual human struggle not only for creature comfort but also for ethical self-awareness.

Resolving problems posed by social interaction seems to beg for a cybernetic answer. Things are much more comprehensible when you can see it in flowchart form. Organizing and coordinating the flow of resources from point A to point B in an efficient and effective manner makes a practical sense whose clarity cuts through so fuzzy uncertainties.

Yet, organizing human life cybernetically takes its toll on the human psyche. As numerous social and individual psychoses show, as silicone- or other organically based machine-human interface, the ability of humans to adapt on a subjective level to this new reality becomes more difficult. Reduced to greater and greater demands to conform at work and everyday life to plans devised by computer-based models, humans seem especially incapable of handling.

Of course, these words almost seem somewhat nostalgic now. The concept of human nature or that humans have a nature is withering under studies of the human brain. These studies seem to show that humans are nothing except biological computers. We are products of environmental, genetic, and physiological processes. The notion that I have something called consciousness is just another way to describe a more accurately described computer sub-routine.

Authors like Richard Sennett and others show how the everyday work world has changed based on the use of computer applications. While in the past it was true that humans tried to adapt machines to the needs of humans, it is becoming more and more apparent that modern life entails conforming humans to the needs of machine life.

I have noted before that human history is now undergoing some monumentally significant changes in the way humans think of and understand themselves. In many ways, the ethical sense is disappearing under the assault of consumerism and cybernetic conformism.

To repeat: human history has been marked by a continual search of humans for something called self-consciousness. In western history, this was immortalized by Socrates saying that I should know myself. The face of the future is one where this question just doesn’t make any sense anymore. It will not make sense because the life-form that is required to give it a basis in emotional and rational terms will have disappeared.

The logic of human behavior, gesture, and sociality will simply no longer allow people to conceive of “knowing thyself.”

Related article

No comments: