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Is Modern Technology Making Us Less Human?

Updated on March 12, 2016

The past two or three decades have seen technology develop and progress at a rate which few people could have predicted. Almost every aspect of our lives has been touched by this explosion in automation and electronic innovation. Communication, education and social interaction are just three of the many areas of our lives which have been altered almost beyond all recognition. While advancement of this type provides many benefits in many different ways - perhaps most notably in medical science - surely there must be a downside? Just as every action has a reaction, is technological improvement doing an equivalent level of damage to who and what we really are? Could it be in fact that the modern technological innovations which have in so many ways made our daily lives easier and more comfortable are just as surely making us less and less human at the same time? If you stop to think about it - really think about it - you may find yourself somewhat discomfited by what you come to realise and discover.

Mobile/Cell Phones and Smartphones

When they first came in to regular use in the latter part of the 20th century, mobile or cell phones were an innovation. They allowed people to keep in touch on the move for a wide variety of reasons and were invaluable in the event of an emergency. Rapidly, however, these phones have evolved to allow users full Internet access while on the move, very often to the detriment of their attention to what is happening in the real world around them at any given time.

A few months back, I found myself sitting on a train one midweek mid-afternoon. It was a quiet time and there could only have been perhaps a dozen other people in the carriage I found myself occupying. As I sat reading my newspaper (yes, a paper based supplier of news and other information!), I found myself constantly being distracted by the various pings, bings, bongs and who knows all what irritating, electronic noises. Folding my paper and laying it down, I took a moment to look around the carriage at the other occupants to see that each and every one of them was paying full attention to their smartphones.

I have never owned or even operated a smartphone. I wouldn't know how to switch one on, or how to begin to conduct even the most basic of operations if it were already switched on. I have a couple of times actually been offered one for free but have politely declined on both occasions. Why? For the simple reason that I want to experience the world around me as well as live in it. I don't want to be a slave to an electronic device or feel the need to check e-mails, text messages or social media as frequently as people once upon a time looked at their watch.

When I had briefly taken in the smartphone frenzy taking place around me that day on the train, I looked out the window and watched the beautiful autumnal scenery passing by. All the rich brown and golden colours of the trees and the wonders of nature's beauty were particularly in evidence that beautiful November day - and sadly. all my fellow passengers were entirely oblivious to its glory.

The Joys and Wonders of the Natural World

An early summer's morning view up Loch Fyne from the stone jetty at St Catherines
An early summer's morning view up Loch Fyne from the stone jetty at St Catherines | Source

Photographs and particularly videos in modern times mean that we can see, in full glorious colour, beautiful sights and scenery from all around the planet. If we want to know what it looks like at the top of Mount Everest, peruse the frozen wastes of the South Pole, or feast our eyes on the golden sands and palm trees of a remote tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we need but type a few words in to a search engine and marvel at the glorious images or footage which all but instantly appears on our screens. What we are seeing is true representations of reality and not perhaps the artwork or second or third hand verbal or written descriptions which previous generations had to rely upon to experience anything of foreign lands. Can these images and recorded footage truly, however, come close to replicating the true thrill of experiencing the world around us for real?

No matter where you live on this planet, it is almost certain that you can get out and about to experience one form of nature's beauty or another in all its real and magnificent glory. It may be that you can walk along a beach, feeling the wind on your face or the sun on your back, listening to the cries of the gulls circling above your head. You can smell the clean, fresh saltiness of the ocean, appreciate its power, its vastness and even its majesty, in a way that no artificial creation can ever truly emulate and allow you to experience. Alternatively, you may wish to walk through a summer meadow, feeling the grass tickle your ankles, breathing in the scents of the summer blooms and listening to the insects do what they have done for countless millennia. No digital medium can yet - or surely truly ever - offer that genuine, personal experience.

Microwaves, Ready Meals and Good Old Fashioned Home Cooking

Tuna and vegetable skewers with homemade sweet potato fritters and dip
Tuna and vegetable skewers with homemade sweet potato fritters and dip | Source

What and how we eat is perhaps one of the things which makes us most human of all and separates us completely from every other species on this planet. For countless thousands of years, human beings have prepared food, combined different food types together, cooked these foodstuffs in ever increasing numbers of different ways and developed a whole distinct culture centred simply around food. Chefs and others in the hospitality business make their livelihoods and often great fortunes from preparing food in ways in which others like to eat it, yet even this aspect of humanity is under threat from modern technology.

Microwave ovens and meals which come ready to be popped in to it are perhaps the most obvious culprits when it comes to many people losing touch with the traditional human food culture. People with busy lifestyles often see nothing wrong in making a full meal selection from the freezer department of their local supermarket and popping it in to their microwave for it to be ready in a few short minutes and a ping. While there is of course nothing actually wrong with this practice - especially if its only on an occasional basis - the reality is that many younger people are not acquiring the knowledge of how to cook with fresh ingredients and are not getting the vitamins and minerals in their diet which very often only fresh ingredients can provide. The long term health implications alone can prove personally catastrophic.

Food is not of course just about nourishment and the pleasure of trying new dishes, it is very often a social event, bringing family and friends to the table to break bread together, catch up at the end of the day with each other's news or celebrate a special occasion. While many families do still celebrate occasions such as Thanksgiving or Christmas in a largely traditional sense with a special meal, TV dinners - frequently from the microwave - or constant referncing to mobile or cell phones at the table have very often put paid to traditional family dinners on a more regular basis.

The Written Word v Text Speak

Human beings have for countless centuries expressed themselves, communicated and recorded their experiences for posterity through one form or another of the written word. From ancient hieroglyphics on the tombs of long dead kings to the newspapers, letters and books of the relatively modern world, writing rules have been established and adhered to that subsequent readers may be able to digest and understand the intended message.

With the advent of text messaging and restricted content social media platforms such as Twitter, a whole new "language" is being developed which is often branded text speak. A combination of phonemic and abbreviated spelling - even in some schools - is posing the very distinct possibility that many children growing up today will struggle significantly in the reproduction of formal language in later life. The possible implications for future society are many as standardised spelling even within languages such as English, French, German and more could be lost, leading to potential catastrophic breakdown in communications and perhaps particularly translations.

When Did You Last LOL for Real?

Laughter often is the best medicine but only when it is real laughter
Laughter often is the best medicine but only when it is real laughter

One of the interpretations of the popular acronym lol is, "Laugh out loud." Really? Most of us see these three letters or even type them many times every day, particularly perhaps on social media. How often, however, does the average person who types these letters really laugh out loud in the personal company of a friend, a colleague, or perhaps even a stranger in a cafe, in a bar, or on a train? Considerably fewer times is a safe bet in most instances, if in fact at all. Laughter has been proven by medical science to be beneficial to our physical and mental health but that refers to real laughter, not three letters typed on a computer keyboard or smartphone keypad.

Virtual Reality Websites

There are a number of sites on the modern Internet which allow users - very often for a fee - to create for themselves a whole new, fake, imaginary identity which bears no relation to real life whatsoever. It is important to note the fact that such sites can be of infinite use and benefit to perhaps people who are frail and elderly or have a significant disability which significantly hinders their ability to get about and lead an active life. This means that these sites can in such instances serve a very real purpose and that must never be denied or forgotten.

Where these sites can become extremely problematic is when young to middle aged, fully able bodied individuals become almost addicted to them to an extent that their virtual lives are almost taking over from their real lives. Where particularly perhaps a teenager is immersing themselves in their fantasy world on a regular basis, very possibly for several hours at a time, this surely must bear a significant threat to their ability to lead a normal life in the real world when they reach adulthood and have to fend for themselves, earn a living and form a wide variety of inter-personal relationships. It could be that they don't realise their mistake - or their parents don't recognise the danger - until it is largely too late and they are left significantly damaged in at least a behavioural sense for life.

Freedom of Choice for Future Generations

It has to be acknowledged that freedom of choice regarding technology is as important as in any other part of life. This means that any individual who chooses to take full advantage of technology in every aspect of their life is perfectly entitled to do so. What we must ensure, however, is that we don['t deprive future generations of this choice. They must not be made to be so dependent on technology that they are quite literally incapable of getting by without it. Imagine a society where no one can cook, drive a car, operate the simplest of appliances, all because computers and advanced technologies routinely perform these tasks on their behalf. What would people do in the event of a catastrophic computer crash?

Artificial Intelligence and Computers Which Can Think

Artificial intelligence is probably the most frightening aspect of all in relation to developing technologies. Imagine a computer which can think, ostensibly reason and determine the best course of action to take in any given situation. What would be the likely characteristics of such a machine? Would it be grateful to mankind for its creation, devoting itself to the preservation and servitude of humanity? Would it practice love, compassion, humility and so many other positive emotions which we depend upon in a civilised and functional society? Unlikely - at least not in the early days.

Self-preservation would be likely to be the first sensient factor of these machines, very possibly causing them to recognise human beings as a threat to their very existence rather than their masters and betters. If these machines controlled weaponry, were capable of operating the non-thinking machines which mankind depended upon to operate its highly mechanised society, could this not very possibly spell the end of humanity, or as good as the end? Maybe small pockets of humans would remain, hiding in caves from their technological, inhuman superiors and living as their ancestors did so many thousands of years before? This sounds like something out of a Hollywood science fiction movie but as the technology which could bring about this very scenario becomes ever more likely, could it represent the future for human life on Earth?

It's Important to Remember What Makes Us Human...

We are sensient beings, we have (at least) five very different and distinct senses, designed not only to help us get by in life but to improve the quality of our life in countless fascinating and delightful ways.

Some day very soon, I'll be heading for the coast with my fishing tackle and a few friends, as I do on a regular basis. I'll gaze upon and admire the beautiful scenery I encounter, both en route and when I reach my destination. I'll smell the wonderful saltiness of the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the seaweed on the shore and many other countryside associated smells, both good and bad. I'll feel the deck rising and falling beneath my feet at the mercy of the waves as the boat leaves the shore and listen to the haunting cries of the gulls and the other seabirds, coming through loud and clear over the sound of the engine. I'll feel the warm sun, cold wind or even driving rain in my face and revel in the glory of any or all three. I'll enjoy some good banter with my friends. I'll hopefully catch a nice fish for the pot, take it home, clean it and cook it up in the simplest of ways to let me taste nature in its greatest and finest perfection. The car and boat engines aside, there will be no modern technology involved - and those are the occasions when I truly feel most human and alive...


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