Sunday, July 10, 2016

Behaving Like A Robot With Other People

            In writing about the effects of modern technology on human behavior, there has been a focus in this column on how modern technology directly affects the user.  How does the experience of the configuration of stimuli that emanates from a technological device or a whole technological environment affect how a user thinks, how a user feels and how a user acts.  The focus in the column has been on the sensory distortion generated by the technology and how this, in turn, creates behavioral distortion in the user (what has been called in this column conative acceleration and conative anesthesia) and distortion of the user’s sense of self (the person eventually slides into becoming like a robot).

            But there is another significant dimension to the effects of modern technology on human behavior, and that is how does modern technology influence the users of modern technology to relate to the people around them.  How do people who work with computers all day relate to their spouses and their children?  How do employers relate to their employees and vice versa and how do workers relate to their fellow workers?  How do students relate to their contemporaries and to their parents?  How do students and teachers relate to each other?

            In a previous article, there was a discussion about how crimes took the form of crimes of passion in more traditional pre-industrial societies and crimes of numbness in modern technological societies.  It has been my opinion that our increasingly frictionless modern living environments lead people to enter a frictionless level of numbness in their life experience, which, in turn, leads them to commit crimes to feel alive.  But a hurt against another person or persons doesn’t have to rise to the level of a crime to have a negative effect.

            Perhaps the best way of describing the effects of technology on a user, in order to understand the foundations for what happens in the interactions between users and the people around them, is to think of technology today as a form of addiction.  Particularly movies, television, video games, computers, smartphones and tablets.  If one is going to live in an environment where one is surrounded by the sensory distortion created by technology, at least let a person have some control over it by focusing his attentions on miniature versions of these sensorily distorted environments – namely, the technological devices already enumerated.  And in these miniature worlds, one can balance out the levels of stimulation one receives.  If a person is feeling numb, he can go into his screen reality and watch an action movie on Netflix or listen to some rap music on iTunes.  If a person is feeling overstimulated, he can search the Internet for a new pair of boots or immerse himself in numbing reams of meaningless data.  People today become very immersed in their technology as a means of stabilizing themselves.

            And this is what happens in other addictions.  People try to balance out the imbalance of stimuli inside their heads by using food, alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.  They go back and forth between states of understimulation and overstimulation, between vacuum states and tension-pocket states.  In truth, a true balance or even an approximate balance is never truly achieved.  And this is why people remain addicted or stuck on these substances and activities.

            The same can be said of the people using technological devices.  Except in these cases, the imbalance is at least partly created by the global modern technological living environments in which the users are living.  The users use technological devices to stimulate their internal living environments – their minds – to balance out the imbalanced stimuli they receive from their external living environments in the external world.

            Ultimately, the only real way to protect against the sensory discomfort created by the sensory distortion of modern technological society is to change one’s sense of self so that one becomes more like the technological devices that one uses.  One becomes like a robot.  One develops a sense of self based on internal mental environments of infinite continuous vacuum stimuli and pockets of defined discrete figure stimuli.  It is like vaccinating oneself against the sensory distortion of modern technological society.  Robots, when they are turned off, keep still in their vacuum, and when they are turned on they move in an overly defined discrete jolty angular way.  And the ongoing interaction with consumer technological devices is a way for a person to continue to stimulate and exercise his robotic nature so that he can continue to feel protected against sensory distortion.

            The configurations of sensorily distorted stimuli lead to configurations of robotic thought patterns in a modern technological user’s mind, which lead to robotic presentations of self and more specifically robotic behavior.  This leads to the people around him experiencing alternately understimulation and overstimulation in his presence.  The user can ignore the people close to him, not spend much time with them, or simply be psychologically not-present when they are present.  He can do most of his communication with these people through the mediated path of their smartphones, computers and tablets.  Or the user can find a way to generate abrasive friction with the people around him.  A user can generate the kind of abrasive disputes that lead to separation from family members, people in the work place, or people in the community.  They can commit crimes of numbness, crimes that pull them out of their numbness in an abrasive jolting way, like robots being turned on.  Chronic modern technology users become increasingly incapable of the kind of organic bonding that is the foundation for stable grounded relationships.

            In particular, modern parents model for their children by being less and less present for their children, both physically and psychologically.  And when they are present, they try to leave their imprints on their children by being controlling and critical.  In many cases, they push their children constantly to achieve and achieve.  From the earliest years.  After all, if the child is busy achieving, he doesn’t have so much time or state of mind to make demands for intimacy and interaction with his parents.  So the child is pushed to do well in pre-school to get in the best elementary school to get into the best high school to get into the best college or university to get into the best graduate school to get the best job.

            The understimulation of not being present much and the overstimulation of being controlling, demanding and critical.  Vacuum and tension pocket.  But people who are pushed to  achieve, who are not at the same time given strong emotional bonding, become robotic.  Children slowly incrementally become configured to become robotic like their parents.  This, in addition to the robotic influences of the children’s own intense involvement with modern consumer technological devices.  So the influences of the robotic parents reinforce the influence of children’s direct involvement with modern machines.                                                          

            There is a strong moral aspect to consider when dealing with the way modern parents bring up their children.  To the extent that these parents impart their robotic attitudes to their children and to the extent that children are given the unlimited opportunity to use modern consumer technological devices, we can say that parents are influencing their children to move away from their organic human essence towards the development of a more robotic sense of self.  Which, in the long run, prevents these children from satisfying their deeper emotional needs.  And leads them to feel hardened and empty.

            To the extent that parents use modern consumer technological devices a lot and live surrounded by an extremely technological environment, to that extent the parents are going to develop behavior and attitudes that are immoral according to the standards just discussed.  This is because a person does have some choice in his degree of involvement with technology, and because parents are hurting their children at an age when the latter are most open and vulnerable to being transformed by the robotic behavior and attitudes of others.

            Now it is not just the influence of parents over children that provides the opportunity for immoral robotic interactions.  As dwellers in modern technological environments, we are all potentially influenced by the robotic technology users that surround us.  At the same time, our own robotic behavior influences others.  So it is not only the modern consumer technological devices that hurt people, but also other people in their roles as robotized modern technology users as well.  And these users have a choice to limit to some extent their addiction, their use of these devices, not only to avoid becoming totally robotized themselves, but to avoid spreading robotizing influences to others.  It’s something for all of us to think about as we engage in our consumer technology activities.

© 2016 Laurence Mesirow

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