The world was a better place before cell phones. This statement is logically inconsistent, factually incorrect and simply absurd. But a friend of mine, someone who was actually alive way before 1990, says it without a shred of doubt. He says that human bonds were more enduring. Commitments were made only when there was the actual intention of sticking to them. People were capable of sitting still for hours in waiting rooms with nothing else to do but stare at walls and people-watch.
He goes further: the world was a better place before the Internet. The human attention span had its pre-historical resilience. News affairs were dealt with depth and rigor. The stingy tendencies of the human species were not stimulated with an instantaneity that shamelessly tends towards the infinite. I know that he doesn’t actually mean what he is saying. He does not believe in it. After all, he works from home by using the Internet and in his pockets are not one, but two very expensive smartphones.
But somehow he goes even further: the world was a better place before social networks. It still prevailed in the world a supreme mystery regarding the lives of others. There was no way of knowing immediately what had happened to your high-school classmates. If you wanted to approach a woman, you had to summon your inner strength and introduce yourself directly in the flesh. He says that he fears that social networks may be the first minor step towards the eventual disconnection of Men from his own natural consciousness. Virtual reality could very well have begun with a glorified address book created at Harvard.
What he doesn’t seem to know is that he does not represent anything new. Throughout the course of history, technological innovations were met with equally loud sighs of wonder and screeches of hopelessness. I do not refer to the comprehensible screams of despair let out by old ladies whose livelihoods were destroyed by the invention of weaving machines. I refer to the type of person who believes, or deludes himself, that there’s something inherently evil in technology.
That discomfort might have biological roots. The human body is, for all effects and purposes, designed for the short and slow-paced life of a hunter-gatherer. The current world is not only a place that changes rapidly; it is a place where the rate of change increases rapidly and where constant and ubiquitous innovation is the norm. But that doesn’t mean that resistance to change and suspicion towards technology is not a line of thought with a relative degree of validity. The concept of Transhumanism, an idea that advocates the full integration of humans with technology, was considered the prominent political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, as one of the world’s most dangerous ideas.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere between the extremes, in a gray area, far away from personal fundamentalism, emotional blindness and moralist fear. Every technological innovation has its benefits and its risks. Television can provide a close proximity with worldwide events while at the same time providing the flagrant repugnance of reality television. Nuclear power can provide us with everlasting energy and everlasting doom.
I believe that the Luddite inclination of resisting the lure of technology is a sign of an honorable instinct that struggles to remain in touch with our humanity. But ultimately, resistance towards technology is not only futile; it is about as significant as a dog barking at a passing car.