If one asks someone what is the biggest technological invention of all times, the answer will most probably will be the Internet and the computer. However, it does not mean that before these inventions people did not deal with high technologies. In his article “Computers and the Pursuit of Happiness,” David Gelernter argues that an ability of information to revolutionize people’s lives is overrated. Human mind is inquiring and has always attempted to alleviate people’s lives. Therefore, the wheel, cart, construction, book-printing, and many other inventions are examples of technology and have existed for a long time. With each new invention people come to believe that their life becomes easier and better. Although technology has introduced many useful inventions into people’s lives such as computers, mobile phones, smart home systems, air conditioning, navigation systems and the Internet, it imposes certain limitations on people; in particular technology interferes with people’s mode of thinking and at the very least changes it, not always for the better.
Gelernter refutes several popular claims about how much technology revolutionized people’s lives. First of all, Gelernter reminds that the computer tops off a long list of technological inventions of the twentieth century such as “Movies, phonograph, color photography and color printing, the electronic transmission of photos, the invention of radio and radio networks and international radio hookups, newsreel, television, transistorized electronics,” etc. While the compluter was a breakthrough that continues shaping people’s daily life today, it was not an only technological invention that influenced it. Indeed, with the help of computers it is easier to collect, process, and store information, more work can be done by one person and ultimately it became easier to communicate with people far from each other. However, Gelernter emphasizes that it would be an exaggeration to call it “the defeat of geography” because truly distance was conquered during the Industrial Revolution when people got an opportunity to travel by railroads.
The arguments about the time when modern transformation first began to take its shape are given in the article by Jared Bitting, Vincent Childress, and Craig Rhodes called “Social Studies and Technology.” On the example of transportation they explain how technology and society mutually influence each other. The authors say,
It was the steamboat that helped improve the wealth of society by improving the speed and increasing the tonnage of trade on the Mississippi River. However, it was the need of society to deliver more goods to and from the interior of the US that served as a motivation for Futon to invent the steamboat in the first place.
Another wide-spread opinion is that a large amount of available information makes people smarter and more knowledgeable. But it is doubtful because there can be too much information, and then it confuses people and they do not know what information is true and what they can trust. It is very time consuming and stressful to constantly verify all coming information and filter what is right and what it wrong. Therefore, on the contrary, nowadays people are less knowledgeable than one hundred years ago. Gelernter asks, “Is anyone prepared to assert that … our fifth graders are better informed about reading, writing, history, or arithmetic? That our fifth-grade teachers are better informed?” It is obvious the answer is no because many people already lament a noticeable decrease of knowledge. Nowadays young people know less and have less desire to study and get information, or the information they get in more of entertaining quality than of educational.
Expanding on the detrimental effect of technologies, a short psychological research on “The Influence of Media on Education” by Ana-Maria Petrescu reveals the negative effects of excessive screen time on children and young people: “induction of passivity, uniformity of tastes, slowing imagination, desensitization of individuals on acts of violence, sometimes decreases of physical performance and school performance, poor communication with family and friends, promoting physical and verbal violence, etc.” While it seems logical that many hours in front of a TV or a computer damages people’s physical condition and demands a release in the form of aggression or even violence, the information on the damage to “the ability to use language, logical and analytical thinking” can be startling. However, scientists indeed emphasize that computers change human ability to think. Not only people change the way they think, they also question the necessity to do it when many processes can be computerized and automatized.
Brian R. Hall, in his article “Technology and Thinking: A Conflict,” argues that technology and the process of thinking are principally different and “the conflict … exists between these powerful ways of being”. No one argues that technology changes people’s way of living and communication. The major question is how they change it and whether it is for better. When thanks to the printing methods books first became wide spread and people would constantly find amidst themselves one or two members who would always have their nose in a book instead of being engaged in a lively conversation, the general sentiment went in lamenting the loss of proper communication between people. Now the similar situation occurred with the computer and people begin to worry that from now on the humanity will forget how to read, figuratively speaking, and will be able only to watch movies and Youtube videos. There has been an emergent trend where people want to consume the already digested information, especially audio visual instead of reading. Online movie stores can easily outdo the performance of bookstores and bookshops. If anything, most people who buy the books do so for academic work, not actually from inner motivation of desire to gain knowledge.
Hall argues that new technologies incur changes in human behavior as well as human way of thinking because technology is “detached from thinking”. And that very reason cannot grant humans complete satisfaction from technology. While technology engages the higher types of pleasure – intellectual rather than carnal, it is expected to grant more satisfaction. However, technology in fact is only a substitution for happiness, “a surrogate for pleasure of the mind,” even if not always a conscious substitution. Hall explains, “Satisfaction implies the need met or the desire gratified, but also borders on the provision of contentment or happiness, the likely state of one with needs met and desires gratified”. Meanwhile, computer technology takes away people’s thrill from finding an answer or making an invention because it does the most part of the job. For example, Google is very innovative and a great invention but does it makes its users’ lives more inventive? Does it encourage users to think? On the contrary, Google makes people forgo their own thinking and fully rely on the search engine. Google founders have an aim to make their search engine “the third half of your brain” and basically they want Google to live instead of people. If the computer knows what people want and offers them ready solutions, their ability to rationalize and contemplate will atrophy. If Decartes said, “I think, therefore I am” and people have Google that thinks instead of them, it means that people stop existing as thinking, rational beings. The practicability of these sentiments are vivid when the search engine makes suggestions on what one would be looking for even before they type their question. Not only does it try to answer the question, but goes a step further in helping in phrasing the question for which the answer is being sought. Thus, technology “can rigidify habits of thought and in some cases could be anti-inventive”.
Besides, even the widely touted technology’s ability to connect people turns out in fact as having the reverse effect. Whereas indeed it can connect relatives and friends who live in different parts in the world, in the long run technology results in the extreme individuality and egotism. It is significantly detrimental for people’s social skills. The development of digital technologies contributes to the growing dissatisfaction among people as they are not able to keep up with the pace of updates. Therefore, technology gives some superficial contentment and poignant feelings of happiness but they are very short-termed and after them there is an even larger feeling of dissatisfaction and a desire for more. At the same time, the social circles created online often lead to the creation of new individuals with certain traits that are different from the actual person. If one was in several social media, they may possess several egos that fit every situation. They relate with every situation to fit in, yet the actual person would be different and would possibly be out of place. In this regard, Hall calls technology “a form of materialism that facilitates virtualism”.
Technology changes the ways how people view themselves, others and the world at large. Nowadays digital media and social networks grant people entertainment, satisfaction, and a feeling of contentedness, even if temporal and superficial. A human predilection to digital media shapes a kind of new personality. It is less of the confrontation between ‘I’ and society and there is more of extreme individualism. Virtually it can be regarded as a degradation of a kind. Humans are communal beings and if they forego this fact they might suffer from it. Traditionally, man lived in communities but the advanced technologies have led to people focusing more on themselves. But with new trends such as sharing of photos on new apps like Whatsapp and video calls on Skype among others, people feel that they do not need to make efforts to physically meet. Technology has cut off family and friends’ meetings from traditional vibrancy and feeling of togetherness to a few minutes of video calls.
However, technology has positive sides too. Apart from the fact that information and communications technology provides information and assists in interpreting and analyzing, it is of great help in studying. Gelernter reminds about online education: “And these new software structures could be world-spanning switchboards, connecting the right student to the right teacher”. It can be viewed as an addition to the argument that technology annihilates geography and erases borders, but it indeed widens people’s possibilities in the sphere of education. It especially refers to people with limited abilities and with low incomes. It also reduces the social differences that existed across cultures where one would only know about a people if they lived with them. Internet has quickened global integration and sharing of culture more than ever before, allowing people to co-exist better and possibly increase their productivity. Other sites such as Twitter allow sharing of information and people can further understand social issues better, because brilliant minds and experts can express themselves in a way that they can reach out to common people on important matters that affect them.
Developing technology inevitably changes people’s lives. However, along with new possibilities the evolution of technology incurs certain limitations in the life of humans. While it erases borders, increases educational possibilities, frees time, and offers new occupation, technology also quickens the pace of life incurring unnecessary hurriedness and stress, shapes the ways how people view themselves, others and the world at large. Giving people a false sense of satisfaction technology leaves them in a perpetual want for more.