On Technology at the Helm of Culture

3 min read

Today technology is intimately infused with our social culture and collective sense of being. We are tied to our devices, day and night, and pumping out information onto social media networks at a rapid pace, and at substantial risk, unbeknownst to many, as noted in On the Need for Erasure by Wilfred M. McClay. We are eager to share with the world what we are, what we aspire to be, and to hide what we are not. Such a focus on the ends – it ends up removing the gravity of the present, transposed to a world soon-to-be (or only to be in our minds). We desire that world, the world of our projected self-image. We cling to it. We latch onto it. This has become a world beset by what it is not, a world of living in the imaginary future: a world of illusory identification.

Although we can speak of the negatives of technology all day, it isn’t all bad! What brought about our technological revolution started out with something very simple. When email was first developed, we were amazingly impressed by the fact that we could connect two offices in a university, and have a message wired down the hall. This was something my Mother once told me. Then, as the years went by, we gradually increased the complexity and utility of our invention, which aided in businesses as much as in our personal lives; it was amazing to be able to email reports to work and school, as well as text friends and family. But, all of this communication was at the behest of Silicon Valley, and other tech hubs, those places for which we dualistically express gratitude but yet accept their advances as established norms very quickly (in the same way one may, the 1930s or 40s, consider the industrious creation of Henry Ford). But, in spite of this, we feel ill at ease with the speed at which development is progressing, and where it’s heading. No one knows where it’s heading. I sure don’t.

Gradually, as the years progressed, technology adopted a more personal touch. A sort of inclination to connect people on a more people level—a desire in the tech industry to allow our newfound abilities to resonate in a more embracing way—to carry with it a more touching message. Instead of the more dry email format—which has been more so relegated to busines use—we now commonly use multimedia messaging. Consider Skype, Discord, Signal, Snapchat, and so on. Immediate, graphic, and connected: it transposes the real world into the technological realm with more composure; our HD video calls feel alive as ever. When it works well, don’t we forget we are using technology, and only talking to the other person?

Today we are immersed in technology from the time we get up, to the time we go to bed. In the back of our minds, while we adopt this newfound ease with which we communicate, we question in some far-away sense, if this is right for us. We pine, still, for genuine human connection. It’s what makes us the beings we are. Though, our increasingly human methods of communicating are bridging this gap quite well.

But… for technology to keep the humanness in human communication, we must not rely too heavily on projecting our sense of self into the future whilst using technology. It’s tempting. It’s a game we all play with, or against, one another. We strive for superiority following the socially instituted games of our current cultural norms. We push the boundaries, creating a waterfall of ever changing cultural circumstance, fueled by the competitive edge so incarnate in our beings. So, in a sense, technology is not at all not human; it exacerbates what has been given to us. It’s a manifestation of culture. It brings out the best, and worst in us. It allows us a means of expression which has heretofore never gained recognition: a domain in which we really don’t exist, yet strive to maintain our ephemeral moment in the spotlight.

Using technology as a bridge at whose ends lies our fellow beings is the best route to a constructive use of what our inventive minds has produced. Technology acts as an amplifier for anything we are, or would like to be, or would like not to be. Technology personifies our cultural norms, our collective sense of self, or our very simple, all-too-human needs. I can’t see it ever being any other way. The only way it may gain an altered collective expression, inspiring a deviation from our current salient cultural past and present, rests upon the development of our self understanding, and through this gate, our culture. I wonder what the future holds.