Questioning the necessity of technology

I assume a difference between tools (those instruments necessary for survival) and technology (instruments that enhance day-to-day living). Based on this assumption, I often wonder why technology is necessary at all, and just how ethically responsible my profession of experience design really can be. Take Facebook for example. It’s a platform for connecting and sharing with people. There’s a lot of technological infrastructure necessary to allow for a platform like Facebook to exist. And yet, Facebook is becoming fundamental to the way people interact and define their relationships. Facebook allows me to stay connected with people all across the world, but is it necessary for me to do so? Relationships are naturally elastic, coming close together and farther apart, both because of proximity and attraction. If technology allows for the coming together, and staying together, of great minds, and the purpose of science is to build more technology, then what’s the point? I think Gandhi was on to something when he elevated moral self-knowledge and spiritual strength over technological pursuits. As I look around at my own life, my technological comforts haven’t provided with a life that fundamentally improves my inner being.

Compare this reflection:

True civilization, [Gandhi] insisted, was about moral self-knowledge and spiritual strength rather than bodily well-being, material comforts, or great art and architecture.

Pankaj Mishra in the New Yorker

With that of Oliver Reichenstein’s:

As unpopular as the notion of truth is, in our time we can hardly afford aesthetic truth concepts. We need to test the results of our science because one of our main goals in developing science is to use it to build more technology. We don’t want to know in order to know, we want to know in order to use.

It’s hard to digest, but the goal of classic philosophy was not applicable knowledge or financial profit, it was done for the sake of pure reason, or, to put it in sweeter terms: out of love of wisdom. That is a massive difference. Not that the classic philosophers were completely against the use of knowledge; that’s impossible; but the practical usefulness of knowledge was not the primary goal of research. It was the desire to become wiser.

A Web Designer On Fukushima

It seems that people might be confusing bodily well-being as means to achieving moral self-knowledge and spiritual strength. And yet, in my own experience, only through experiences of pain do I have cause for the kind of reflection that allows for increased moral self-knowledge and spiritual strength. Going to the grocery store and buying a pack of boneless chicken breast has never caused me pain. But purchasing an uncleaned hen is one step closer to an act that causes me pain. It’s uncomfortable pulling out its guts, breaking off the neck, and chopping the bones. Going one step further, I imagine wringing a chicken’s neck and draining it’s blood before cleaning it is an act that would teach me empathy and respect for the creature I would consume for dinner. The modern boneless skinless chicken breast is a product of technology. There is an entire infrastructure supporting an industry dedicated to the production of a food that requires no respect, no thought, no empathy, no pain. And our entire society, our capitalistic economy, is focused on advancing this kind of technology, so that there’s less pain and less thought, and consumption is easier than ever before. There are now more than six billion people on the planet, and countries like India, Russia, China, and Brazil are moving away from being nations of Gandhi’s ideal “self-sufficient rural [communities]” to becoming technologically advanced First World consumer societies. Physicist Geoffrey West, formally of Stanford and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, puts things in perspective. A person needs 90 watts of energy while at rest. If you add their computer, their air-conditioniong, and other modern technological comforts into the mix, you get a number somewhere near 11,000 watts. That’s more than a blue whale, the largest animal on earth. Other animals don’t have energy-consuming ancillary comforts. Blue whales don’t use iPads. Which brings me back to experience design, a profession that in some instances seems to be dedicated to developing non-sustainable social interactions. But we already know experiences make people happier than material goods. People who use Facebook don’t use it for the experience, but because they want to have experiences and share those experiences. We don’t need technology to have experiences and share experiences. You can have experiences without Facebook. Without all that supporting infrastructure. Without that additional 10,910 watts. And those experiences can lead to moral self-knowledge and spiritual growth. A society doesn’t need iPads to be civilized.

This entry was posted in musings. Bookmark the permalink.