Sunday, September 22, 2013

When Is Technological Innovation Good For People?

            A key element for the development and promotion of the economies of modern industrial countries today is technological innovation.  Companies try to grab market share from one another by coming up with new improvements in their products or else entirely new products that appeal to customers.  In my articles, I have discussed how the technology embedded in these products can have harmful effects on humans.  But the question is does all technological change have a harmful side to it.

            One approach to take is to examine the purposes for which products are produced.  I explored this a little bit previously, but I want to make a more thorough examination in this article.

            The first purpose on my list would be to make things easier.  I have already discussed how making life processes more and more frictionless puts people into increasing layers of an experiential vacuum and eventually makes them feel like they are in a living death.  We are at a point in our history where the average person doesn’t need more labor-saving gadgets.  If anything, we have to find a way of putting more organic friction back into daily life activity.

            A second purpose would be to make work more efficient.  There is an overlap here sometimes with machines that make tasks easier, but not always.  Power tools are not frictionless and produce a lot of recoil to the human body as well as noise, foul smells and material waste products.  Another aspect of many efficient machines is that they produce a lot of work with a minimal need for human workers.  Many complex machines and robots are replacing more and more human workers.  In my article about 3-D printers, I discussed a machine that really has the potential to eliminate practically all human workers in many areas of production.  So more and more workers in modern industrial societies are going to have difficulty finding work as a result of technological efficiency.  These workers are being put in an economic vacuum.

            A third purpose is to make life more sanitary.  Modern public bathrooms are filled with sensors.  Sensors that activate soap dispensers, water faucets, hand dryers, towel dispensers and toilets.  You don’t have to touch anything and contract all the germs from people who don’t wash their hands.  But as has been pointed out, the more we try to put ourselves in an environment free from bacteria, the less likely we are to develop good natural immunities.  So when we are exposed to pathological bacteria, we are more likely to get sick, to get infected.  These sensor machines put us in an experiential vacuum, a bubble, as far as bacteria are concerned.

            A fourth purpose is to pull us out of experiential vacuums with entertaining tension pockets, with kicks.  Loud modern pop music with its electronic instrumentation, strobe lights, amusement park rides, race cars, and motorcycles all fit into this category.  Overstimulation from these kicks causes people to psychologically defend themselves by becoming hardened and jaded and, in the end, more lifeless.

            A fifth purpose is to create substitute worlds to pull people away from the sensory distortion in modern technological living environments.  Here I am talking about the worlds of screens: movie, television, video game, computer, smartphone.  I have discussed in a previous article how these screen worlds represent attempts to create balanced configurations of infinite continuous stimuli from a vacuum and defined discrete stimuli from clusters of figures.  Ones and zeroes, pixels of discrete stimuli grouped together in configurations of figures against backdrops of the infinite continuous stimuli of vacuums.  Such screen worlds represent uneasy sensory balances that still create a sensory distortion that isolates a person from the organic connections he needs with a primary experience world.  Screen worlds do not provide a real answer to the absence of grounding in modern technological living environments.

            All of these purposes have as their ultimate result the creation of products that generate sensory distortion.  Products that put humans into some kind of experiential vacuum and products that create purposeful static, purposeful tension pockets to pull people out of the base numbness produced in modern technological society.  These are all products that contribute to the pathological side effects of understimulation and overstimulation and ultimately also contribute to robotization.  They are all products that I would use in a measured limited way.  Frankly, I would probably eliminate the sensors for bathroom devices completely if I could.

            I will now review some purposes where innovation leads to technological products that directly or indirectly increase grounding.  First, there are the products that increase health and that promote life.  These two purposes do not always seem to fully go together.  There are drugs that keep sick people alive, even though these people are, even with drugs, still incapable of living a vibrant healthy life.  Nevertheless, if life means existence in some kind of grounding and death means existence in a total vacuum, most people would probably support technological innovation that affirms the experience of life, at least in most situations.  The fact that modern technological products may also contribute to overpopulation is another story.  There are no easy postures to take with regard to the purpose of prolonging life, even though on the level of dealing with individual people, we would all feel a desire to support it.

            Another purpose of technological innovation is dealing with all the waste products created by modern technology.  These waste products poison the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil in which we grow our food.  Technology that breaks down waste products so they can be reabsorbed in nature is a technology that strengthens organic grounding for humans and ends up fighting sensory distortion.

            Another purpose of technological innovation is space travel.  For many people who have read science fiction novels, seen science fiction movies and television programs and followed all the manned space flights to the moon and to the space station, space travel seems like something very exotic and very exciting.  But space travel has the potential to be much more than just an adventure for humanity.  It could ultimately find new viable living environments on other planets where people could go and live.  This, of course, is a very long-term project, but one has to start at some point.  Other planets could provide new environments of organic grounding, where people from an overcrowded planet could go to find healthy living space.  Furthermore, if we do not do enough to restore what we poison, we might just end up destroying our planet, and then the human race will definitely need other planets, if it wants to survive.  So space travel could prove to be a very positive form of technological innovation in terms of giving people new sources of organic grounding.

            There is a pattern to my comments here.  Given the fact that we are all experiencing to a great extent the deleterious effects of sensory distortion in modern technological living environments, those technological innovations that lead to our further immersion into experiential vacuums or experiential tension pockets should be looked on with skepticism and used with a certain restraint when possible or not at all.  On the other hand, those technological innovations that lead either to a renewed grounding in ourselves or in our external world, or else lead to our discovering totally new sources of grounding, should be looked on more favorably and used more affirmatively.  For sure, we are going to need some sources of modern technology to deal in different ways with the damage created by other sources of modern technology.

© 2013 Laurence Mesirow

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