We live in a constantly changing world. There is little to no social stability left. People are finding it difficult to have proper relationships with each other. We are becoming increasingly self-centered. We are finding ourselves in our own constructed worlds and finding it difficult to interact with the world at large. More and more, people interact with mechanical devices, shifting hours of focus to remote and often unreal associations, away from a reality that is lost in front of them. While we are trying to find ways to remain in contact with each other, for the most part, all the artificial connectivity is increasing our sense of loneliness, giving many a sense of detached malaise which they cannot overcome.
Rapid changes and expansion in technology drive much of this destabilizing and focus on virtual, constructed reality. While technology delivers much good to humankind, its immediacy blinds us to consider and study the long-term consequences of the tools we use. Are we giving due consideration to what we are doing, and wisely pondering the dangers of our creations? As we become increasingly accustomed to the quick, ever-changing environment we find ourselves in, we lose perspective, tossing in a sea of rapid change, with little to no anchoring, and without a center which we can hold onto if the waves throw us under.
Technology has made many of us look at each other in an instrumental sense, through a hermeneutic which makes us consider each other as objects able to be manipulated for our own gain. We have come to believe that we should find a way – the fastest and easiest way – to get what we want and ignore the longer term consequences of our actions. At best, we put off the ramifications of our acts to the future, hoping we can create something to deal with the problematic consequences as they arise.
By failing to anticipate and safeguard ourselves from natural harms, we fall apart, not only as a society, but as persons. We lose all sense of purpose except the immediate attainment of what we want. Without future vision and meaning, for ourselves and societal role, we lose sight of the dignity of others and, ultimately our own personal dignity. We allow ourselves to become another thing to be manipulated, so long as we believe our immediate desire can be satisfied in the process of such manipulation. Just as we use others as tools to construct the reality we want, we willingly become the tools of others.
While we are not completely bound to the environment, our social climate influences us – more so when we are focused upon fulfillment of immediate desires with apathy or disregard for the adverse or negative impacts of various technologies.
Consider today’s prevailing sexual ethic. In some quarters, we have turned sexuality into pure technique for pleasure, seeking to create sex as a constructed reality for receiving physical pleasure while apathetic or even disdainful toward the meaning inherent in human sexuality. Was birth control technology simply incidental to an inevitable depersonalization of human sexual relations or did the technology itself drive the shift in perspective and objective? I would argue that it is the latter. While society clearly views birth control devices as a positive good, reliance on this technology, as an immediate end in itself, has cultivated and driven the depersonalization of sexual relations. The elimination of intimacy and creation of new life as inherent in sexuality has broadly reconfigured sex as a pleasure-seeking engagement, where persons can use each other as tools of pleasure – a blatant depersonalization of society impossible without birth control technology.
Technology requires wisdom to use. Without caution, even that which can be for good will turn on us and lead to devastating results. The solution is not an outright rejection of all technology: we have been given the gift of reason and the capacity for prudence. Society is changing and changing for the worse due to our foolishness, but this does not mean we are too late. We need to examine where we are today, and to re-establish true human community, to value real interactions with each other. We can and should continue to seek out the good in technology, but we should understand that all goods are limited and generally have unforeseen consequences which undermine and tarnish the “good” – call it the “dark” lining of a seemingly lovely, white cloud.
For example, consider what is missed – what does not happen – when we attach ourselves to a computer screen. Each member of a family is looking at their own individuated screen, creating their own mini-reality. They are entirely disconnected from each other, save greetings in route to the bathroom or kitchen. The dark impact of this disconnection is most evident upon human sexuality, as individuals seek to practice and heighten sexual pleasure through virtual experience on a computer. Human sexuality is cut off from its full and proper good use, not by contraception, but by removal of all real, interactive contact. Through technology, people spend hours alone, seeking to heighten the pleasures of a sexual feeling and climax, without regard to their own personal dignity being noticed and embraced. Without such dignity, sex itself is lost. Baudrillard predicted this outcome in Forget Foucault:
While psychoanalysis seemingly inaugurates the millennium of sex and desire, it is perhaps what orchestrates it in full view before it disappears altogether.
Technology has put sex into full view with pornography, leading to an artificial shell, a construct which is a shell of the real, perverted and rather self-destructive. How can anyone think this is a good? Those who promote free sex as the outcome of modern analysis do more than destroy the family: they promote the destruction of sex itself.
What kind of future will be left for humanity if we allow our innate humanity to be lost to our technology? What kind of persons will we be? Those who love humanity, those who believe in the dignity of the human person need to be more aware of the consequences of their actions. The caution suggested by environmentalists, for example, might sometimes be extreme, but need not go unnoticed, however shortsighted the interests of some environmentalists. There are good reasons to believe we can and are harming our future through negligence. We see it in the destruction of social mores around us. It is time to take such concerns seriously and try to embrace our humanity. We must not let the objects of our creation get out of hand and control us. We must have hope. It is not too late.