We're plugged in – but checked out
As the virtual world becomes our substitute for direct, spontaneous experiences in the real one, we're finding ourselves bereft of genuine connection. Corporate technologists are reengineering the human personality, turning us into Homo distracticus.
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When did we consent to this new, inhuman world order? We didn't. Instead, a small number of corporate technologists at powerful firms like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Google did the deciding for us, making us the subjects of a radical social experiment to reengineer the human personality.Skip to next paragraph
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And if now we demur, if we object that Homo distracticus is not the stuff of an informed and conscientious citizenry, not conducive to the sort of thoughtfulness and maturity our republic needs right now, the technologist can truthfully reply:
That's because it was never intended to be. Like industrialization before it, computerization was meant to increase worker productivity and to create new mechanisms by which human beings might be incorporated into a system of mindless consumption. Who said it would make us better people?
Enmeshed in machines
In fact, even as our machines become more "friendly" and "intelligent," we are becoming more machinelike and docile, more comfortable facing a computer screen than showing up for our town meeting. The more enmeshed we become in our machines, the more we forget our moral duties to one another and to the larger world.
But we are too distracted to notice. Overworked or unemployed, frightened and overwhelmed by national and world problems that seem ever more beyond our or anyone's control, we withdraw into our own private iUniverse, curling up inside our electronic cocoon, rather than risk "getting involved."
My government may be unresponsive, the world economy may be teetering on the brink of collapse, but at least I can download the latest killer app for my iPhone, or mow down hordes of virtual enemy soldiers in Call of Duty 2.
Resisting the tyranny of a technological culture that has insinuated itself into the very marrow of our being won't be easy. Only by reorganizing society and economy around human-centered rather than machine-centered principles might we begin to push back the engulfing technological sea.
In the meantime, we can turn off our cellphones, get off Facebook, disconnect the Xbox, engage our kids in more outdoor activities, and oppose the technologization of our schools. These are small steps, and they won't solve the larger problem of technology. But they would give us some space and quiet to reflect on what is to be done about it.
John Sanbonmatsu teaches philosophy and politics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.