Monday, July 6, 2009

Is Technology A Blessing Or A Curse?

Does technology really improve our lives? I think it is essentially an even trade-off. It seems to me that for every 10% increase in productivity due to technological advances, we as a society effectively increase the burden placed on ourselves by 10%, possibly even more. In this case, we get nowhere or possibly even surrender “progress”.

Some may disagree and point out how technology has made traveling and communicating much more efficient and, hence, has greatly contributed to productivity and happiness. But if we never had any of this stuff, we wouldn’t know what we were missing and might be just as happy, perhaps even more so. What about medical advances? Well, even if the average life span of a human, which is now about 80 years, was only 30 years because we never progressed technologically, what “better” standard would there be to compare our “mere” 30 year lifespan to? We would only ever expect to live approximately 30 years which would seem a relatively long time. Aunt Selma lived 35 years! Wow, 35 years! She must have had good genes! If we only lived 30 years, we might make better use of our more limited time anyway.

Unable to avoid digressing, I feel compelled to ask what a better use of time might mean? Spending more time educating ourselves? Spending more time with family? Spending more time away from family doing life saving volunteer work? Spending solitary time reflecting and getting to know oneself better in order to harmonize with the world more effectively? It’s all relative to each individual.

Now, it is crucial to note the difference between never having had something and having something taken away. Once we have a piece of technology, it is prohibitively difficult to part ways with it. If we try to imagine what it would be like abandoning all the “amenities” we have thus far accumulated, we will undoubtedly fail. This would likely seem very regressive and uncivilized.

The only way to experience what I am talking about is not to have had it in the first place. One might draw an analogy to this idea with the biblical story of Adam and Eve. They were instructed to keep away from the forbidden fruit lest they face negative consequences. But of course being curious and suspicious that God was trying to withhold from them knowledge in order to impede their “progress”, they capitulated to their temptation and imbibed in the forbidden fruit. Initially, they probably felt good about their rebellion. They likely felt empowered, the fruit (analogous to technology) “tasted” really good, etc. But there was a price for this new found “freedom”. They became aware of their nakedness and were ashamed.

Their reality went from one of freedom and innocence to one of feeling ashamed and regretful of the circumstances brought on by their own doing, similar to how many of us long to have the simpler lives we once had. Oh how nice it would be to go back to the days before television and video games and other such mindless “electronic entertainment” and play outside instead! Why do we tend not to? Why do we not just go back to our simpler lives? Because as I've alluded to previously, once a can of worms is opened, it is prohibitively difficult to get its lid back on.

What is my point here? Ultimately, I am saying that every decision and choice one makes in life is simply a trade-off. One will never have it "just right". We can get some of this only by giving some of that. It seems much of the time our attempts to fix circumstances cause more damage only because we do not properly account for these associated trade-offs. It is hard to believe and especially difficult to live by the overused expression the grass is always greener, or at least appears so, on the other side. In the end, it seems paramount to accept what is.

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