In many sci-fi movies and novels, human beings create technology in the hopes of simplifying and enriching their lives and instead it ends up ruling them. The “man subsumed by the machine” motif has been appeared in Star Wars, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Frank Herbert’s Dune and many other places. Such stories speak to the underlying anxiety that we can feel when reflecting upon our own inventions. Can we learn to trust all this technology that we’re so often reliant upon?
Nowadays many people strongly depend upon things like search engines, social networking technology, digital publishing and so many other marvels of the computer age even though they may not actually understand how such things work. They may not even grasp the basic principles behind many of them.
Some apt statements about the psychological and spiritual ramifications of technology were made by the late great mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell pointed out that our culture’s technological progress has outstripped our ability to cope with it on a feeling level. We place our fate in technology’s hands, but do we really understand the bargain we’ve made? Do we know where technology is leading us? Can we sense how it might possibly be changing us?
Getting to the bottom of any form of anxiety typically involves finding and examining the beliefs that may be fueling it. This approach can also work for addressing “techie anxiety”. Here’s a few of the underlying realities that can make people feel uneasy about progress in the modern day:
- History has taught us to question the motives of those who invent and manufacture technology. An obvious example of this is the phenomenon of splitting the atom, which led to one of the greatest horrors of the modern world: Nuclear weapons.
- It is easy to blame technology for the rapine of the natural world. Of course, the real issue is our own personal choices, and the uses to which we put our technological knowledge. But we need only look at our litany of modern ecological ills to see the devastation that “progress” can wreak.
- It all seems to be developing too fast and we feel unable to keep up with it. It’s been estimated that technological progress is occurring 20,000 times faster now than it did in 1900.
The idea that we are ruled by our environment – whether it’s natural or machine-made – is actually a myth. The technology that dominates our culture is merely a reflection of our values, our beliefs and even our fears. It serves as a mirror for us. If we treat it as such, we do not need to feel that it dominates us. It can remain a tool to be used, not to be used by.