Simple Ways to Fight Back Against Dehumanization by Technology
I have been writing for many years about the threat that burgeoning technology poses to the best of humanity—our empathy, connection with self and connection with reality, in and of itself. The evidence is everywhere: People opting for second lives in the metaverse (which actually threaten their first lives, more than accomplishing anything else). People faking how happy they are, every minute of the day, on Facebook, thereby causing themselves to feel depressed, and others, too. People interacting through Zoom and Skype and FaceTime so much that they can begin to treat one another with no more humanity than a television character from a soap opera.
As the late and great Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” When we interact with one another through technology, the main message may well be the medium (the Internet and computer screens) conveying the message: We aren’t real. We are pixelated, animated characters not worthy of real concern or genuine regard or deep connection or attentive listening. All those cute little apps that turn people’s eyes into big comic-book, anime eyes or take away our imperfections or turn us into half animal/half human aren’t cute, at all. They are toxic to the truth that we are physical and spiritual beings, not some amalgam of a software coder’s creation and God’s creation.
What is happening right now in Ukraine—a horrific example of man’s cruelty to man—may well be due, in part, to the dehumanization wrought by the intrusion of technology into our daily lives, every hour, even every minute. We now seem to have as much concern for one another as we would were we characters in a game of World of Tanks, Enlisted or War Thunder.
What can we do to insulate ourselves, if only a tiny bit from the wholesale destruction of our souls by technology? These ways may seem mundane, but they can immunize us a little. And a little may make a big difference, especially if you combine together more than one of these:
- Get a watch that actually winds. That’s right. The act of actually winding your watch, hearing the sound, feeling the motion against your fingertips, can remind you that you are not a passive entity—even in the keeping of time. YOU are moving the gears that power the watch hands.
- Get a dog or a cat or any other pet. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds or any other animal aren’t programmable with joysticks or remotes. That can remind you that you shouldn’t be, either.
- Yes, hug. More human contact than less is a way to reinforce your humanity, especially at a time when the government has made everyone hide their faces behind masks—for years.
- Get a lead pencil and write with it. A dear friend of mine bought me coveted Palomino Blackwing pencils. I like the way they feel when I write with them. I like the sound of sharpening them. I like erasing mistakes and seeing the rubber wear away, then blowing the little scraps of it off the page.
- Get outside. Try stopping the wind or sun or cold air with an app. It doesn’t work. That’s good.
- Have more sex. Enough said.
- Work out or run or walk or use resistance bands. Your muscles are real. They are yours, like your thoughts. Own them both.
- Play cards, dominos, Monopoly or any other game that involves touch and strategy and other players. Words with Friends isn’t the same, because it is a computer game, whether it’s fun or not. And while the research showing that computer games can stave off dementia, etc. may be true, they can also invite depersonalization. If you’re going to play computer games, play board games or cards or something else.
- Read a real book. One you hold in your hands. Turn down the pages to mark where you are. If you stain a page with coffee, that’s even better. You get what I mean.
Okay, that’s a start. And you should start. Because technology will, ultimately (no matter how much fun it is or how powerful it makes you feel), finish off all of us.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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