Friday, January 9, 2015

The Tyranny of Technology

"The Beauty of the Earth"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Twitter and Tumblr, Instagram and instant messages, Facebook, Google and twenty-four hour news --I use to think that our technologies might be the salvation of the human race, tools for joining us all together in a massive interconnected web of humanity. But nowadays I am somewhat re-evaluating my thinking about technology, fearing that these "tools" may in fact be a subtle form of tyranny, dividing us even further and keeping us alienated from an awareness of the bigger, larger world in which we all live.

In my reading yesterday I came across this observation in Buddhist author, Susan Murphy's book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis. 

We have allowed ourselves to become fractured and made small by technology's voracious intent to talk to us incessantly, beam ever-changing images into our minds, have us talk more to more and more people but fewer and fewer face to face, and to strain to do everything in less time. 

We are constantly subjected to incoming messages, opinions, tweets, sound bites and spin, a ceaseless bombardment from proliferating varieties of electronic platforms and only a fraction of these interruptions are important enough to deserve the unhesitating priority they are given. Many undermine rather than add to knowledge, and truth is rarely a concern.

Personally I find great wisdom in this observation.

I know lots of people who rarely interact with other human beings other than through various social media or text messages. They spend their life sitting behind a computer at work, pecking at a phone, at school, at home, even having dinner in a restaurant. However, connecting with people in this way is very different from being with people face to face. 

It seems to me that, when people don't have to look someone in the eye they are far more willing to be mean and argumentative, even downright nasty in the things they say to one another.  The social media are often used as a forum to spew out unfiltered venting with no need to be held accountable for what is said. I am often shocked at the rude and insensitive remarks I read in venues like Twitter or comments on Google or Facebook. 

So while I believe technologies have the power to be valuable tools for connecting us, they often have the opposite effect.

But I think there is yet one more tyranny that our technologies may impose upon us in our own times- they keep us separated and alienated from the larger, bigger, natural world. 

It wasn't until I moved out to the desert that I came to realize just how distant I had become from the sky and mountains, the birds of the air, the brilliant stars in the night. I had spent most of my days sitting inside meeting rooms and church buildings, inside a car or inside a house listening to relentless 24 hour news reports, sitting at a computer for endless hours sheltered from the bigger universe to which we all belong as human beings. 

My life in the desert has not motivated me to throw away the computer, disable my smart phone, or turn off the news,  but it certainly has taught me to use technology more carefully and with greater wisdom on my spiritual journey.  

In order to be fully alive and to know a deeper truth, I need to spend time with other people - to see their eyes and touch their hands. I also need to be quiet and walk slowly, to breathe the air, smell the fragrances of the flowers and delight in the blazing cosmos of a nighttime sky - Twitter and Facebook don't allow me to do this.  

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