Mankind and his technologies

Americans, in general, are big on freedom, or at least the perceived notion that each individual in the country is allowed personal freedoms, rights and privacies under select laws and Constitutional amendments. This freedom ranges from what we might choose to have for lunch, to what we study in school, to what type of professional lives we select for ourselves.

Many have stated that with the age of automation people have been granted even more freedom because many day-to-day things that once required manual labor or attention to detail to get done can now be done with ease, or an automaton can do them for us. Take microwave meals, for example. The technology of microwaves traveling through space is utilized to make food preparation easier, require less steps and take up less of your time. Or, consider cruise control operations on cars. This feature was designed to possibly save you money on gas consumption as you set a comfortable, road-friendly speed–but more likely people use it so they can relax, kick back and steer with one hand while they enjoy a Big Mac and super-sized Coke as they drive from Chicago to Madison, Wisc.

The more advanced computers get, the more they streamline our workflow. Just a few years ago, it was a major innovation to get wireless internet service via on your laptop computer. This allowed hundred of thousands of freelancers, students and Internet hobbyists to crash just about any Starbucks location in the country and camp out while they “worked.” Now even that technology has  been expanded with the introduction of wireless cards which run on the same networks as wireless phones. There is now service coverage by towers and satellites virtually everywhere. We’ve become an army of self-contained, partially automated moving offices, ready to set up shop and do business anywhere and everywhere.

But is it good or bad to be this linked to our technologies? Our question this week asks, do you think it’s important to separate the humans from our technology. Well, in some ways I would argue yes, and in some ways I would say, we can’t be separated.

Going back to the notion of freedom and autonomy: When cell phones first started getting really popular a little over 10 years ago, my dad, who has always leaned a little to the conspiracy-theory-paranoia side, told me he didn’t like the idea of people having them because he thought “the government” might be tracking our every moves. Around the same time, I had a blog at a then-popular journaling site called Diaryland. As one of the features of my blog, I put up a nifty little tracker that could show how many hits my blog got daily. In addition, the tracker would provide information such as how many unique views occurred, what sites or search engines were directing people to my blog, etc. When I started blogging, I felt secure posting whatever I wanted to , because I believed (wrongly) that since my little blog was labeled “private” and I only gave out the link to a small number of my closest friends, that not many people would pay attention to ramblings about my personal life and people I knew. I thought that I had absolute freedom. I was wrong. A few times I was annoyed to receive posts from people that I didn’t know admonishing me for some of the content on my blog. I really took it personally, so I felt compelled to take some of my posts down, because I felt my anonymity was compromised. But that wasn’t the worst of it. I was scrolling through the redirects that my tracker had registered one day, as I would routinely do, and I discovered that my blog had been viewed SEVERAL times, by someone at a dot gov address that was displaying as being registered with the Department of Defense. Not only that, I scrolled down to find out how the DoDs had landed on my page, and it showed that whoever was viewing my page had landed there after doing a search of the word “absinthe.” (I was fully aware that this was an illegal substance in the state from where I was posting. However, the mention of absinthe was harmless–I had just rented the film “Total Eclipse” and was writing a short review of it!)

Anyway, from this experience, I started to feel limited in my Internet and blogging. Not that I was directly censored, but it really creeped me out to think that because of certain trigger words, someone out there might be checking up on me. While as Americans we have the wonderful First Amendment to protect the freedom of our presses, there can be consequnces to the sorts of participation in the free exchange of information you choose to participate in.

More recently, there have been other reports on ways that technology has tracked (and trapped) its users:

“Shops track customers via mobile phones”

http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/article3945496.ece

“Toll records are used to catch unfaithful spouses”

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/08/10/toll_records_are_used_to_catch_unfaithful_spouses/

Though some of the implications of being “trapped” by our technologies are potentially frightening and threatening to full human autonomy, I would also say that our lives being intertwined with technology is inevitable and can’t be separated. It’s hard enough for people, in the current economic situation of a cash crunch, and also dealing with rises and falls in the cost of gasoline (but particularly rises) to become less dependent on fossil fuels, for example. Imagine our society trying to do away with many other forms of technology. Can you imagine an office without computers? Or delivering important communication without email, wireless phones (or even landlines) TVs, satellites, faxes, etc.? Humans will never abandon our technology systems; we will only cultivate them. So, it’s impossible to separate the two. Especially since some cultures are now so closely identified and intertwined with their innovations, such as Japan and most of the West. Progress is what we think of as a sign of success, of modernity moving forward–it’s part of human evolution.

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3 Responses to “Mankind and his technologies”

  1. murtaza14 Says:

    I have really liked the way you have brought out the relation between human and technologu using the eg of microwave and wirless internet. It has for sure revolutionsed our day to day life. But also i think on the other hand we have become so dependant on it which is not a good thing. As we know that the when a microwave is in use in generates very high power rays across that heats our food…so is this a good thing in the long run…how will they affect us..? i guess all these questions remain unanswered.

  2. katiekoep Says:

    I really enjoy your discussion of freedom in relation to technology. However, some of the examples of automation you provide seem to point more toward laziness and convenience than freedom to me. It is interesting to think about those types of thing as freedoms, though. And I’m sure many people do. To me, the issue of freedom within the technological realm is a more Marxist view of freedom. I see automation and can’t help but think about the destruction of individualism and originality. Everything seems to become a formula rather than a vision. We are all being fed so much of the same information that branching out beyond that becomes increasingly difficult. However, as I stated in my post, perhaps opposition is not the way to go about dealing with this situation. Perhaps the real creative challenge is to find ways of making this new medium cater to our own creative needs. We are already beginning to do this with blogs and social networking sites. We must let technology evolve us, but not destroy us.

  3. andrewsmrz Says:

    Your discussion that technology has liberated us from drudgery only to be replaced with sloth is central to the question of the price of our so-called freedom. What every generation calls the good life seems more and more like a anti-social nightmare. But as you discuss in your last paragraph, our society may or may not have any choice in doing away or doing without certain technologies given the economic and ecological crises looming in our (near) future.

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