The Pendulum of Being

I stand corrected! The motivation for my past post, “Technology is not the problem. We are.” is such that I’m tired of how technology is the all-too-often/convenient scapegoat for the evils of our world. Swinging the “pendulum of being” in the opposite direction, however, offers a similarly limited and reductionist way of understanding. I’m guilty as charged for taking an overly-simplistic approach to thinking. I’ll try again….

Humans and technology have a very complex and co-constitutive relationship of mutual inter-dependence: as we make our technologies, they then make and shape who we are. We cannot fully understand our selves, others and shared worlds without knowledge of technology. Simultaneously, the more we want to learn about technology, the more we need to understand about being human.

Historically speaking, humans and technologies were generally distinguishable from each other. At present, however, technology is more like an extension of life, and it is far less clear to determine what it means to be human and what it means to be technology. For example, we can make prosthetic arms with skin that is sensitive to touch, we can create life by cloning and genetic manipulation, machines have intelligence, robots have emotions, and I often hear phrases like “all reality is virtual reality,” “I couldn’t live without my <insert technological device>,” “my whole life is on my computer,” and consider the human technology ofglobal consciousness.”

If we think of technology as an extension of life, then this brings forth more questions:

  • Are we human beings or human technologies? Hybrids?
  • Are those with cyborg capabilities the new “survival of the fittest”?
  • Are humans the “old machines” the outdated, unwanted, good-for-nothing technology?
  • Are humans on the trajectory of devolving into the life-sustaining body of technology (which cannot yet reproduced itself)? Our future humanity merely existing as a dispassionate standing reserve of human energy, a meaningless resource just waiting to be technologized?

While humans seem to consistently have the same flaws throughout history, what about the character of technology? Technology’s driving and demanding ways of relentless competition, calculative efficiency and optimized/maximized potential is evolving exponentially, at speeds and scales to the likes of which humans have never ever experienced before…. Our petal-to-the-metal, high-pressured, high-speed way of living reflects the human will to technology (technology fueled by human volition). Consider, for example, how it took several million years from the first chipped stone tool to the smelting of iron. It took just a mere 1000 yearsfrom the first iron to the hydrogen bomb. And in only a few decades, we have created the most energy-dense of all things in the universe (to our current knowledge), the thing that has more energy flowing through it (per gram, per second) than even a star… What is this thing? It’s the PC chip.

Humans (arguably steadfast over time in terms of character strengths and flaws) are part of this technological acceleration, this force that is MUCH greater and MORE dynamic than our species. The rise-progress-disaster-demise of past civilizations serves as a historied projection of the past upon the future, warning that technology is like a dangerous child that the human family has let loose on our planetary home… As the pendulum of being swings, we’re seeing the consequences of human technological evolution all around us. Technology is not the problem. Humans are not the problem. It’s a family matter and the issues are relational. //PJ

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