Technology is an extremely modern force. Are we able to keep up with its advancements? In this research paper, I will be asking the following question: why do we all strive to reach a certain “human condition”? What influence has technology had on us socially and culturally, and how has technology influenced what it means to be human? My thesis for this question is that technology does influence our culture and society both positively and negatively, and it has created an “ideal human condition” that we all strive to reach; it also has had a negative influence on what it means to be human, and there are other outside factors that contribute to this ideal human condition as well.
I will first discuss what it means to be human and Historian of Science’s Michael Bess and his research on technology and humans. I will also discuss Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s concept of race and technology. I will continue on about social media influences on culture and society, then further discuss the concepts of John Calvin’s predestination and Calvinism, and finally how we can fix these problems and move forward with using technology to make positive changes. I chose this topic because I believe technology is extremely modern, and we’re the first generation that’s having to deal with its repercussions and problems. Its applicable to many present-day events and present-day thoughts as well. Of course, it’s also interesting to see the different viewpoints on the issue.
I believe that historically and presently, there is an ideal human condition that we’ve given meaning to through our actions as humans. Part of this is technology and how it impacts our lives and the definition of being a human. When researching, a Historian’s thoughts that truly stood out to me was Michael Bess. He claimed that technology is moving too fast in one lifetime and that our habits didn’t have time to evolve with these technological advancements.
He also stated that new technologies will force us to reconsider who we are, and we could lose ties to the real world since the virtual world is unproblematic, in contrast to reality. Artificial intelligence, he says, could be dangerous when they keep becoming more advanced to the point that they intellectually surpass humans. I agree with his research, and I believe that we should keep track of the progressions made to make sure they benefit us. Bess also asked if we can even be in a world without mediated communication; this stood out to me because it’s so completely engrained into our minds that we cannot live without technology, that even if we can live without it, taking it away or losing it would cause chaos.
Bess claims we should consider costs and gains, and we should ask “what is all of this doing to our habits, to our cultural sense of who we are?” (Bess). Intelligence also was what put us as the top species on the planet, so what would happen when technology, like previously mentioned, surpasses us intellectually? Would they become human? Bess also said, “We’ll continue to make them smarter and more capable and more powerful until we reach a point at which they start to learn on their own and start to modify themselves” (Bess). I believe that the definition of “human” is based on much more than just intelligence, so machines can’t change that. However, I do believe keeping track of the process will help us make sure we’re being technologically effective.
The next concept I will discuss is Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s concept of race and technology. She claims that “humans and technology, as Bernard Stiegler has argued, evolve together.” (Chun 8). I believe this goes hand in hand with Bess’ research, as it is obvious that over the course of the years, as technology continues to progress, humans do as well. Chun also discusses race as a technology and supports this claim because it became a way to identify and separate people by their skin color; the most prominent example would be during segregation.
Would this become a factor that would endorse an ideal human condition by race, if we’re separating humans by their physical state? If a result of this “technology” is an idea that one race is superior, it becomes a racist technology, as Chun states. She says, “racist technologies thus sought to make clear distinctions in society where none necessarily existed.” (Chun 18). This means that divisions were created that enforced racism in society that weren’t there before. This is a negative outcome of race as a technology and is a possible way for a certain condition to be endorsed or attaching a negative stigma to certain minority races by saying one is better than the other.
How does technology contribute to social pressures? This is an extremely relevant and modern-day topic, since social media has become routine for most people. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have created images that are “right” or “wrong”; these images have become desirable or what people attempt to stay away from. For example, social media has influenced women to want to be tall and skinny, or men to be muscular and masculine. These expectations are created through exchanges of what people should look like. This also contributes to gender norms, and as a result there becomes societal norms that if not followed, will be judged or punished. This creates the same “ideal condition” that has been discussed; if there is constant positive reinforcement, then we will continue to believe that these conditions are the only acceptable ways to look. There are many negative outcomes of these social pressures, including body image issues, feeling like a failure because certain standards couldn’t be reached, cyberbullying, unrealistic expectations (relates to the issues of the virtual world presenting a utopian society, when in reality the world is problematic and imperfect), and also unhealthy sleeping patterns. This is just one of the ways that we contribute to a so-called “perfect condition”.
Culturally, we’re impacted everyday by technology. When we receive a notification or a pop-up on our computer, that is a sign that technology is influencing our daily lives. Using online services or Netflix or Hulu is also a sign that technology is becoming a part of us and there can be incredibly positive results from this. Technology has helped people in countries thousands of miles away get an education they never could have received 100 or 50 years ago. We can talk to people across the world and spread awareness for causes that matter through social media platforms. We’re still well on our way to helping people across the globe fix widespread issues; these methods are also more efficient, and as Michael Bess said, we’ve changed enormously just in our lifetime, and this is the first time something like that has happened, and there is incredible potential with what we can do with it.
The next concept I will discuss is how historically and modernly, there have been influences to reach the ideal human condition outside of technology. During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin cultivated the ideas of personal responsibility, Calvinism, and predestination. His ideas were formulated around religion and being able to prove where you were going after you died. His idea of predestination was that God already set your fate, and nothing you can do will change what He has planned for you, not only from the beginning of your life, but from the beginning of the universe. His idea of personal responsibility was based on how you live your life and perform your role could prove if you were saved or damned. Calvin called this the Proof of Election.
How much you worked and how wealthy you were was a determining factor in knowing if you were saved or not. Even though it was predetermined, this endorses and becomes an ideal human condition, as religiously if you were rich and worked hard, you were saved and blessed by God. This forced people to work harder for more money, as they wanted to reach this state of being blessed and knowing they were saved. This contrasted to traditional ways of life, as people only worked to sustain themselves and stay alive. When comparing this way of life to today, it is similar in that people still see wealth as a defining characteristic of how successful someone is, however it isn’t a way to prove being blessed by God.
When comparing these actions to today as briefly discussed, things are still similar. By creating this importance of wealth during the Protestant Reformation, it makes being wealthy an ideal state that people strive to reach in their lives to gain proof that they were blessed, and people still strive to reach economic wealth in their lives today to feel successful. Individuals still believe that monetary success and fame is an ideal scenario, and by having this stereotype, there is a negative stigma attached to poorness or being in an unstable financial situation, because it is assumed that if you have little wealth or aren’t economically sound, it is the result of drug or alcohol abuse, dropping out of school, or being a criminal. This is another way we put meaning into the concepts of wealth and poorness, and how it validates the ideal human condition.
Solutions can be impactful and help us limit these negative results that technology has on us. The basis of it would be to no longer endorse an ideal human condition; this would be difficult, however, because social media is part of our culture at this point and regressing the influence it has had on society would be near impossible. We should however, learn to break stereotypes and telling people how they should look and live their lives. With these stereotypes, individuality will decrease, and everyone would be the same. We could also slow the advancement of technology, as Michael Bess suggested; this would allow us to make sure the gains outweigh the costs and that it’s helping us strive to better ourselves.
Another solution would be to work on the level of technology we’re currently on. By this, I mean that as we go further with technological advancements, we should consider what we can do with what we have now. There are still millions of people homeless, in poverty, or suffering from war or terrorism in other countries. Why don’t we ask ourselves what technology can do for those people who need help? We can help those who are in poverty and those hungry get food, bring vaccines to families and children in disease-ridden countries to keep them healthy, and we can use social media platforms to bring awareness to problems like this, and so many more. We can continue using technology to help cancer patients and funding hospitals. If there are still so many problems currently, working on fixing them should be our first priority before we start to make flying cars or self-driving cars; helping humans should be our first priority.
Racially, we see how race can be a technology to endorse racism; we’ve seen how today history can repeat itself. As we progress, and as we’ve discussed many times in class, we need to accept that racism is engrained into the fabric of our country and that needs to be changed. We need to accept that we are different, but that those differences shouldn’t change how people are treated politically, in the workplace, or socially. Also, historically, we’ve seen how wealth is still a staple characteristic of success in our nation; redistributing wealth and focusing on helping those in need might change this stigma.
So, why agree with me? As previously mentioned, there are so many things we can do with current technology to help others before we continue advancing. In conclusion, Technology has brought many problems upon us as a generation that we’ll eventually have to come to terms with, and it has irreversible effects on us as a society. However, we’ve changed lives with it, and we should continue to use it to its best ability and improve the changing world the best we can, and we’re capable of the power it wields if we use it properly. I believe it’s also necessary to work on not letting it control us and force the ideal condition it endorses. In support of what Michael Bess suggested, I also believe slowing the process will help us adjust better to the changes that it brings. As a young person in this generation, I can already see the impacts of technology from such a young age, and I hope to see the good come out of it as we continue evolving and learning about what it can offer us.