Modified on: August 31, 2019
Technology is amazing. And disturbing. Technological innovation is meant to disrupt our lives, by introducing a new application, a new device, a new technique meant to change our daily patterns and thus how we live and work.
Technology shapes our lives. For the better, we hope.
The blazingly insightful philosopher Hannah Arendt lived during a period of massive change in our technological history. Born Jewish and German, she watched the mechanization of mass murder during the reign of fascism and Stalinism in mid-20th century Europe. She fought against the calculated political rejection of Jewish refugees seeking haven in the United States, and carefully analyzed the industrialization of war in Vietnam. As an émigré to the United States herself, she experienced the bountiful expediencies afforded by ever-improving household technologies in a modern capitalist society. And she experienced the proliferation of mass media on an international scale. Writing in 1958, she reflects in her book The Human Condition:
“…the world we have come to live in…the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer automatic functioning, as though…the only active decision still required of the individual were to let go, to abandon [our] individuality, …and acquiesce in a dazed, ‘tranquilized,’ functional type of behavior.”
Our technological age can seduce us, with its ease and accessibility, into thoughtless complicity with social trends that are happy to use us, but on which we have little power to act. But, Arendt asserts:
“Thought is still possible.”
We live in a world of technological innovation—this is our time in history, and it is inevitable. And it can be very good—innovative, convenient, joyful, life-nurturing, often life-saving.
Our interaction with one another through technology, and with technology itself, is also inevitable. And this can be good, even very good. But we know that it is we who make it so. And it is we who can make it negative too—sometimes very negative.
In our technological, rapidly evolving world, where the pressure to passively consume information and to acquiesce to social trends is very great,
how can we develop our skill with technology
to genuinely engage with one another and our world,
to act within our society to shape its possibilities and values in a way that nurtures life
and the innovations of which we are capable,
innovations of beauty, goodness, care, community, and joy,
thoughtful of technology, and of one another, and of the world in which we live
and in which we do have power to act?
In our high tech world, what is the depth of connection that is possible between us?
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