Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Technoglogical Blindspots

Here's a new idea... that technology removes one from being aware of that they're doing.

As I drove down rt. 30 on my bike for the 5th time in two weeks, the stress of cars rocketing by became nerve wracking. It occurred to me that the people in the cars have no idea (or are indifferent, which is the same thing) that they are threatening me by their actions. But that is the nature of the automobile in this regard, that the driver is removed from any NECESSARY awareness of how WHAT THEY ARE DOING (driving) is affecting me.

In general, all technology relieves people of knowing the full extent of what their actions are involved in. For instance, when you drive a car you are not aware that you are pumping fumes into the air. When you use a blender to make a milkshake, you are not aware that you are increasing the energy consumption in the world. When you walk from the train in a crowd of people down a long corridor to the corporate workplace, you are not aware that that form of transport itself is a grim visual stimuli to those who view it from a distance.

Technologies of all kind are used to achieve results. Transport systems get people to work. Blenders make smoothies. And so on. These technologies have arisen in human society due to a complexity of causes.  If history is any indication, the creation of technologies of all kinds (from stone tools to iPads) seem inevitable and good.

Leaving aside the question of whether the endless manufacture of gadgets and consumer items is actually always good… it is clear that such things are sometimes good. For instance, when I go to the doctor, I am glad there is an X-ray machine, and I don't care if the X-ray tech doesn't realize the full extent of his actions. As long as I get an X-ray pic that aids my health, I'm OK with it. As long as the tech gets paid his salary, he's OK with it. And so on.

The problem with technology OVERALL… is that it provides a potential numbing effect in the mind. We conduct our lives mediated through layers of technology, and at every turn we are unaware of the real effects we are having. We can conclude that much of what we effect in the world is unknown to us. We are not responsible for what we don't see. Furthermore, we don't care.

The problem then, is that the MORALITY of life… of how we treat each other… is based on our humanity, not on our technology. The respect for human life, the prohibition against murder, the respect for each others property, the cordiality of treatment we afford each other from day to day. Such things require a humanistic perspective on other people AND of the way we relate to those people But if so much of our lives are mediated through technologies which cut us off from such knowledge, we are potentially in trouble. This potentiality is not a certainty, but if a cursory look around the culture is any indication, the inhuman effect of technological mediation are really obvious.

I suppose this is simply another aspect of the march of human technology. Not only are the previous technologies wiped away, and not only do we recreate our view of the world in the form of these new technologies… but we are forced (thereby) to re-contextualize our view of morality. For instance, it used to matter how you treated someone in public. But when you're in car, you don't care. This lack of caring isn't conscious... it's simply that technology of the car and of roads creates a context where their is no awareness of the affect you have on others. The real effect of this is to not care... to not take care. We do not take care because we don't realize there is a problem.

As a rule of thumb, one is not held morality responsible for things they were unaware of.  This is problematic with technology, in as much as it makes us unaware of so much. We end up excusing ourselves for immoral behavior, simply because we are ignorant of it. But morality is (ultimately) about the outcomes of actions, not simply of states of mind.

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