"Both the development of technological tools and the uses to which humanity has put them have created modern
civilizations in which loneliness is ever increasing."
Technology, broadly defined as the use of tools, has a long history.
Ever since Erg the caveman first conked an animal with a
rock, people have been using technology. For thousands of years, the use of tools allowed people to move ever closer
together. Because fields could be cultivated and the technology to store food existed, people would live in cities rather than
in small nomadic tribes. Only very lately have Erg's descendants come to question the benefits of technology. The Industrial
Revolution introduced and spread technologies that mechanized many tasks. As a result of the drive toward more efficient
production and distribution (so the ever larger cities would be supported), people began to act as cogs in the technological
machine. Clothing was no longer produced by groups of women sewing and gossiping together, but by down-trodden
automation's operating machinery in grim factories.
The benefits of the new technology of today, computers and the internet, are particularly ambiguous. They have made work
ever more efficient and knit the world together in a web of information and phone lines. Some visionaries speak of a world
in which Erg need not check in to his office; he can just dial in from home. He won't need to go to a bar to pick up women
because there are all those chat rooms. Hungry? Erg orders his groceries from an online delivery service. Bored?
Download a new game. And yet.
Many people, myself included, are a little queasy about that vision. Erg may be doing work, but is it real work? Are his
online friends real friends? Does anything count in a spiritual way if it's just digital? Since the Industrial Revolution, we
have been haunted by the prospect that we are turning into our machines: efficient, productive, souless. The newest
technologies, we fear, are making us flat as our screens, turning us into streams of bits of interchangable data. We may know
a lot of people, but we have few real friends. We have a lot of things to do, but no reason to do them. In short, the new
technology emphasizes a spiritual crisis that has been building for quite some time.
As I try to unravel which I believe about the relative merits of technology, I think it is instructive to remember technology's
original result. A better plow meant easier farming, more food, longer lives, and more free time to pursue other things such
as art. Our newest technology does not give us more free time; it consumes our free time. We are terminally distracted from
confronting ourselves or each other. We stay safe, and lonely, in our homes and offices rather than taking the risk of meeting
real people or trying new things.
While I am certainly not a Luddite, I do believe we need to look for a bit more balance between technology and life. We