HUMINT: Tech Tyranny
What keeps you busy? With all of our so called “technological” advances, you don’t really have more time for yourself, do you? Admit it! None of us do. Most of the blessings of Western Civilization don’t feel like blessings. When your boss calls you on your cell phone on a Saturday for a status report, you flinch at your caller ID. When the “self checkout kiosk” at your local Home Depot can’t seem to read the bar code on your new ceiling fan, you sigh at the clerk. “A little help over here!” you say, with a tone of superior annoyance. These things can feel so oppressive…
Believe it or not, most of the gadgets you use every day have raised your expectations of quality, efficiency, and workload. When one or more gadgets fail to deliver its utopian promise, a watershed of disappointment naturally follows. Likewise, when we dehumanize each other as robots, our guilt or innocence comes from how close we associated with gadgets.
Does our techno-drudgery deserve a protest? We are not robots! We are not the cell phone we choose to buy. We are not the Satellite Radio we listen to or the Global Positioning System that guides us. Whether saving us time, providing pinpoint directions or superior audio performance, these tools help us be who we already are. They can’t help us if we don’t like who we are. If you don’t like yourself, these gadgets are bound to make your life worse, not better. Maybe we could change our outlook if we thought of all of these gadgets as tools.
Tools are a physical manifestation of liberty. They always have been (from the Stone Age) and always will be (to the Information Age and beyond). Adopting a new tool liberates us from its predecessor’s annoying limitations. Interestingly, old limitations are quickly forgotten and enhancements taken for granted once we discard an old tool and adopt a new one. The process begins anew when new limitations are quickly discovered with the new tool. Think about what you’re actually buying when you invest in an upgraded mechanism. While it may be shiny, flashy and fabulous, the inventors of new tools are really selling you more of your life. They are inventing and you are buying time saving techniques as well as experiential quality enhancements.
Regardless of how it feels; the cell phone for example, is just one of many mechanisms in an ecosystem of devices that facilitate human communication. Certainly, communication devices will continue evolving in our free market. One day however, when we consumers are unable to detect product limitations, evolution will cease. That’s how products dominate or die in a free market. They simply stop changing when they achieve equilibrium in their environment.
How did we get here? Did we consciously choose this ecosystem of gadgets? Actually, free will combined with democratic ideals of freedom of expression got us here. The society Americans built and continue to build on was done so with a collective conscious. Western Civilization’s pursuit of liberty started with philosophical intangibles and migrated into tangible art, academia and industry. Sophacles asserted more than 2000 years ago, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: ‘thou shalt not ration justice’ ”. Sophacles is in intellectual harmony with Aeschylus who said, “Death is softer by far than tyranny.” Technology isn’t tyranny. On the contrary, technology is the fruit of rejecting tyranny.
Without Western Civilization: your time would probably be consumed by less savory chores. If it wasn’t for the trajectory of Western Civilization your slaves would probably be keeping you busy these days. Without Western Civilization: If you would’ve become an ambitious slave driver, you would have undoubtedly spent your days beating and abusing your slaves. Not because you’re a sadist. You would need to beat them as a pragmatist – to work them harder. While violently abusing another human being sounds repulsive, there is no other way to get men and women to unquestioningly abide by your will. Technology on the other hand, is more compliant.
Without Western Civilization: and without luck, you would probably be a slave today. If you were born or sold into slavery with any ambition of self determination you could expect to spend your time being beaten and abused. Without technology, mankind’s reliance for large public and private works would invariably fall on the back of human slaves. It did in the past. Without an inherited sense of liberty and justice born of empathy and mutual respect, there could be no market for advanced technology. Without basic human freedom, society cannot support a free market. Before Western Civilization emerged, barbaric and imperial society had achieved an untenable equilibrium. In other words, mankind was stuck and was unable to evolve beyond tribalism and iterative attempts at imperial conquest.
These days, all of mankind has an unprecedented opportunity to transcend ancient forms of oppression. Ancient philosophers articulated the necessity to do so. Whether you feel it or not, we in the West are enjoying the evolved blessings of their intellectual power. No, it isn’t perfect. No, it isn’t utopia. No one is making that claim. This essay is not a call for technology over tyranny. If only it were that simple. Technology affords humanity the ability to transcend oppressive systems around the world, not necessarily the will to do so.
The next time you are in public, put down your gadgets for a minute and look around at the faces of your fellow citizens. Men, women, employees and customers --- they’re all free. If you can understand how important that is, that’s where you’ll find the will to help all mankind transcend tyranny.