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“The Machine Stops” Holding Tech in Check

A vast amount of technological invasion is now accepted by the average person with little thought of how the tech they invite dehumanizes them.

Twitter has not brought us closer together, it has set us further apart. Our divisions are accentuated, much as with road rage in vehicles, our separation on social media increases our hostility.

Applications may make processes at work easier, but at the same time the apps are killing our leisure by keeping us constantly connected. My leisure is dramatically different from 20 years ago. Working in insurance there is never a quiet moment. When off on a weekend I now have email to respond to, dashboard updates to review, weather alerts which may require action, numerous social media platforms that may require a response, expense reports to review, investments to watch, and this is all done on my iPhone. Yes, we have staff to manage many of these items, but since it is at my fingertips I find it irresistible to engage.

E.M. Forster warns us all the way back in 1909 when he wrote, “The Machine Stops”. A short story where a society depends on the “machine” to support all of life, and has humans live fully from a single room of their own, only connected to others via a screen.

Daniel Russ, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Cultures offers a forward to the story, noting four anticipated technology influenced patterns from Forster over 100 years ago.

First, Forster envisions a world completely dependent on technology. Every part of life is dependent on the machine from air, food, communication, housing, and water.

Second, Forster depicts the isolation from other humans that technology generates.

Third, the author shows the fear humans have of interacting with each other due to the separation created by the machine.

Fourth, the smallest of inconveniences creates great irritation. One of the characters receives a room not as nice as another and “spasms of rage shuck her.”

It is a story of a boy wanting to reconnect with his mother, who sent him off to be raised by the machine. It reveals the concerns we should have about the technology we invite into our lives: alienation, dehumanization, conformity, fear of differences, disconnection from nature, counterfeit experiences, brain washing, eugenics, and science and technology worship.

Our dependence on technology is not accidental. It is an intentional act.

As Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products” said in a Paul Lewis article in The Guardian,

“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions. It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.” None of this is an accident, he writes. It is all “just as their designers intended.”

So, should we be down on tech? I’m not.

The first paper I produced in college on a Mac instead of a typewriter was glorious. Having Find My Friends so I can get to my daughter with ease if she has a flat is comforting. Opening my garage door from Paris so my neighbor can turn off my sprinkler system due to all the rain is fantastic.

As with all things, we have a personal responsibility to act responsibly.

With the invention of brick making came man’s attempt to reach God with the Tower of Babel. A ridiculous use of the new technology. We must continue today to ask ourselves what are the virtuous uses of technology?

If the future is that painted by Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” we most certainly should take warnings from Forster.

“Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human,” writes Yuval Noah Harari.

This is how we hold technology in check – we identify where it makes us less human.

We revolt against that which does not make us better and encourage this in those around us.

Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

Millennials are aware of the intrusions. Many young people I know choose but a single social media and limit their engagement. This after fully diving into their mobile device and then coming to a realization it should not be all encompassing.

As Emma Korstanje at the University of Georgia wrote,

“We feel like we need this technology, the Macbooks and the iPhones and the iPads, but honestly, we don’t. We need fresh air and live music and a library of great, dusty novels. We need intellectualism instead of Twitter feed news and we need family time instead of Netflix binging. We need these things not because the older generations think we are “lazy,” “self-obsessed” and “materialistic,” but instead because we need to care about our own minds. Our own knowledge and world-view. The technology runs out of battery, but the mind does not.”

Let us not lose hope, but let us continue to weigh and measure what we deem useful and be cognizant of what we permit to introduce into our lives. And, let us not submit or permit Harari’s view of us and our future.

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