As happens in all eras of big technological leaps, our modern world is changing us. No longer does our struggle to survive bring us the amount of direct contact with the raw elements to secure food, to build and maintain shelter, or to stay safe from both human and animal predators as our ancestors once experienced. Our struggles have leveled up to something a little more abstract. Our needs haven’t changed, but the means to meet those needs have.
The movie Life of Pi presents in film a powerful portrait of a very raw and direct struggle brilliantly showing how it is that otherness reflects our needs and purpose back to us.
But survive we do and on a pretty grand scale now days. Everything from refrigerated food storage, antibiotics, running water, to the transformation of fossil fuels into energy has redefined how we live our lives – perhaps increasing our expectation of peace and safety. Maybe that is why our modern plague of senseless crimes is shocking because we live in relative peace and safety.
And so, we cannot seem to avoid the curse of evil and the threat of darkness no matter how much technology enhances our creature comforts. We’ve increased the speed, breadth and amount of the information we can access through technology and find it harder and harder to opt out of its influence in our lives. Opting out must be a willful, conscious decision, with trade-offs we’re not always comfortable with.
Perhaps opting into an increased volume of information decreases our ability to digest and reflect. The speed of reception and the speed of reaction are driven by the technologies themselves. But it is through the slowness of reflection that we are often moved to amend views that we no longer find adequate, meaningful or truthful compared with our knowledge and experience.
Because access to the internet is easy and fast – it invites a rapid response from us. How much time do we give ourselves to reflect and digest information exchanged through email, facebook and twitter? Are these exchanges more than invitations to like or dislike using prepackaged social, religious and political picture-grams posted by others? Just as an increase in the money supply deflates our currency, the increase in information supply deflates its value, bringing the exchange to new levels of absurdity:
The faster information comes to us, the quicker we must determine our relationship to it. Is it friend or foe? Do we duck, embrace, or swat at it? Either way, we respond quickly because technology works quickly. What the technology does not encourage us to do is spend much time reflecting on the meaning of events or our emotional responses to them. I don’t want my understanding of life to be defined by the culture being created through the use of high-speed technology, however much benefit can be derived from it.
I do so much enjoy reconnecting with old friends, keeping informed about local happenings and bridging some of the geographical distance with my family through the internet. And perhaps we are after all learning something about ourselves because the medium of exchange is different from direct, personal two-way contact.
And, I have found plenty of time for reflection in spite or even because of my use of technology. My views and understanding of life continue to shift because of new information. Yet, I remain skeptical that the benefits of what technologies provide outweigh the harm they might bring. Whatever their influence, they’re here to stay even though I am doubtful that the changes they bring will move us any closer to the peace and security we long for. Maybe longing needs to stay with us, prompting us to move towards finding a truer and more lasting purpose in our lives.