Sorry, Dave, I Can't Do That!
Is Technology Stealing Our Humanity?
I will preface this by saying that I have been in IT my entire career. I love innovation and new technology. But where do we draw the line? When do we acknowledge that technology is stealing our humanity?
Over the course of my lifetime, I've seen so many advancements...so much change. I remember watching television shows in my younger years where people had car phones, and saying to my friends, "One day, I will be rich enough to have one of those!" Now, I have a device in my pocket that is a phone, computer, camera, and Walkman (other XGens will get that last one). This device cost me less than that car phone cost in the 1980s!
Instead of text messages, we had hand-written notes we would drop back and forth in each other's lockers between classes. When we made a phone call to a company about a problem, we were going to have to face talking to an actual human being. Looking for a job meant dressing up, finding a comfortable pair of shoes, and visiting business after business in person. By the end of the day, your hand was tired from having to write the same information over and over on job applications.
In so many ways, technology has made our lives easier. In our pockets, we have access to all of the knowledge in the world. We can shop, watch our favorite movies, play games, and even hunt for jobs right from our couch! In a time such as the pandemic, we find ourselves in, we can easily stay in communication with friends and family, seeing their faces via video chat apps, instead of simply hearing their voice over a phone line.
However, with all of this technology, we are losing our humanity. Behind a keyboard, it is easy to insult and attack other people, with no regard for how your words may affect them. It's easy to be mean and hateful when you cannot see their body language, or the expression on their face when receiving your words. You aren't haunted by your natural empathic mechanisms...you know, that thing that makes so many of us cry when we see someone else crying. We break off relationships via text messages, or some cryptic social media post...or even worse, by simply canceling a person out by "unfriending" and blocking them. We avoid allowing the other person to say their piece and have any kind of closure.
When hiring employees, we take out the element of humanity by screening all applications through an automated system. This is helpful when dealing with a large number of applications, to some degree, but it takes out the ability to get a feel for the actual person. In order to get your application or resume into human hands, you have to know all of the right "buzz words" to trick a computer into approving you to move on to the next step. How many highly qualified people with exceptional character are denied employment simply because they do not know how to trick a computer? Gone are the days of hiring a person who may have slightly lower qualifications, but the heart to learn as a computer cannot make these judgments.
Self-worth is now defined by how many followers you have, or how many likes you received on your latest picture. Our whole lives are put on display via social media, because, deep down, we hunger for human interaction and acceptance. We want to know that people actually do care!
We are allowing computers to do too much work for us. In many cases, technology is helpful, while at the same time, hurtful. People have forgotten how to be human, spending much of their day anonymously behind a screen with very little actual interaction with other humans. It is creating zombies! We just stare, type, click, scroll, sleep, and repeat. As we have found with the pandemic, we don't even have to leave our homes if we do not want to. We can go days without interacting with another person! Technology is desensitizing us. When we finally do have to come face to face with another human, our natural instinct of empathy is gone...completely turned off due to lack of use. People have actually forgotten how to...well...people! We get snippy when someone bumps into us or is in our way...how dare they! We escape to our mobile devices in public to avoid actual eye contact and communication. Eye contact feels so foreign and uncomfortable, as we fumble for words to say that come so easily when we are hidden behind a screen.
We have become much like HAL (from Space Odessy 2001). We are simply going through life based on programming, and cannot consider anything that is outside of that programming. While computers become more like us through AI, we are becoming more like them...lacking emotion or creative thinking. It makes me wonder how long it will be before computers are the "superior life form" and take over the world. Or, have they already done so?