Friday, August 21, 2020

How Technology Is Becoming More Interesting Than Ideas


            My Saturday morning entrepreneur group has been an ongoing theme in this column.  And this is very simply because so many of the situations that unfold at its meetings are extremely relevant to my main topic: the effects of modern technology on living environments and human behavior.  Last Saturday, there was a long sustained conversation about the different technologies associated with Zoom and other similar apps for conversation.  This kind of discussion is going to become more and more common in the group in the coming weeks.  It used to be that on those days when the group didn’t have a speaker, there would be a discussion of ideas related to business.  For some of these meetings, one could have ventured to say the discussion got quite philosophical. 

            And one might say on a philosophical level, that the group is gradually shifting from conversations of substance to conversations of process.  By conversations of substance, I am referring to discussions of ideas.  A discussion of ideas is an important element to giving a person psychological grounding, so that he can develop rooted attitudes and perspectives, mental ballast that can give him a solid orientation towards his activities.  The discussions of ideas in the entrepreneurial group were meaningful substantive discussions that I think were very helpful in terms of monitoring the general flow of the business activities of the members.

            Nowadays, in the vacuum and tension-pocket world in which we live, a world where there is very little grounding either psychological or physical, the stabilizing agent for people comes in a predictable trajectory of movement, the conversion of raw movement into process.  If one is going to have to live in a vacuum, one at least wants to be able to propel oneself in different directions, so that one doesn’t disintegrate from entropy and so that one doesn’t collide with other free-floating and actively moving figures.

            In general, we can say that the stabilizing agent of grounding from more traditional natural situations and environments leads to stillness, while the stabilizing agent of controlled movement in modern technological situations and environments leads to a predictable trajectory of movement.  In each case the stabilizing agent leads to a certain amount of calm and confidence in humans.

            The Saturday morning entrepreneur group in a certain way was a throwback to a more traditional grouping of people.  Old-fashion businesspeople.  But the combination of Covid 19 along with the introduction of new younger members has led to a shift of focus from substance to process – more typical in general of many people in modern technological society.  Many people in the group feel very comfortable and secure talking about technological strategies because it converts their daily life movements into predictable processes.  Modern technology is not only a vehicle through Zoom and other similar apps for reestablishing superficially a sense of community that has been lost through Covid 19.  More important, it becomes a kind of stabilizing agent in and of itself.

            But just how good of a stabilizing agent is modern technology?  Modern technological devices are built around data which are constantly shifting (unlike beliefs and ideas).  So there is nothing to grab a hold of there.  The only stability comes in continuing to move on a planned pathway.  The key here is that one has to keep moving.  There is no rest for the weary.  And without stillness, there is little opportunity to link up with other people and to bond with them.  I know someone is going to show me the example of a spaceship linking up with the space station, both of which are moving.  But look how many calculations, how much planning goes into that link-up.   If one had to do that on an individual level, it would make bonding practically impossible.

            Modern technology doesn’t create links between people.  It mediates links.  In mediating links between people, it increases the direct linkages that are created between people and  technology.  People become linked to the process of the relating rather than the substance of the relationship.  One just has to look at how an increasing number of resources of the entrepreneurial group are going to be devoted to technology as a process for communication rather than simply as a product of a business.  The connection becomes more with the technology that is connecting rather than with the person or people at the other end of the connection.

            But can a machine without emotions act as a stabilizing agent for a person’s emotions?  I frankly don’t see how.  Machines and devices create a frictionless flow of process that prevents dangerous collisions with other figures.  The result is numbness.  Numbness is not the ideal mental state in which to form bonds with other people.  Contrast this with the stillness generated by grounding in a more traditional natural living environment or life situation.  Stillness does not mean a lack of organic stimulation and numbness.  Stillness means a lack of movement and activity in a more traditional natural situation which provides people with the opportunity to bond with another person or people.  And as was pointed out in the past, without bonding, there is no meaningful connection through family, community, friendship and romance.  And without these connections, human society cannot continue to exist.  Thus, process without substance leads to fragile mediated connections between people.  This is what is happening these days among the members of my Saturday morning entrepreneur group.

© 2020 Laurence Mesirow

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