On Technology at the Helm of Culture

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 begins to erode the significance of the present, transporting our minds, quite often, to a world of our imagined self-image. We desire that world; we cling to it, we latch onto it. Our real world has become plagued with our collective obsession with an imagined, digital reality.

Though, our present digital reality wasn't always this way. 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, for example, and have a message wired down the hall. 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.

All of this communication is and was at the behest of Silicon Valley, and other tech hubs, those places for which we express gratitude, but yet accept their advances as established norms very quickly (in the same way one may, the 1930s or 40s, consider the 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.

Gradually, as the years progressed, technology adopted a more personal touch. It endeavored a shift to connect people on a more people level. Instead of the email format—which has been increasingly relegated to business and educational use—we now commonly use multimedia-focused messaging. Consider Skype, Discord, Signal, and Snapchat. Immediate, graphic, and connected: it transports us from the real world into the tech world with more realism (our high-definition 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?

For technology to keep the humanness in human communication, we must not rely too heavily on projecting our sense of self into the future while 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 of what is socially acceptable, creating a waterfall of continually changing cultural circumstance, fueled by the competitive edge so incarnate in human nature. In other words, the often subtly combative nature of social media—such as one-upmanship, showing only the positive sunny side of a varied life—could be a result of our fundamental Darwinian aims, which are then expressed through the vessel of cultural norms. Technology allows us a new means of expression: a stage on which we don't physically exist, yet strive to maintain our ephemeral moment in the spotlight.

Using technology as a bridge to our fellow beings is the best route to a constructive use of what our inventive minds have produced. Because the current way it is being used is linked with unhappiness.

A study from Harvard Business Review supports this view:

Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

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, and our collective sense of self. I can’t see it ever being any other way. The only way it may gain a more holistic, positive collective expression, inspiring a deviation from our current salient norms, rests upon the development of our self-understanding, and through this gate, our culture. I wonder what the future holds.