We Humans Are Nothing Without Technology

Humanity is a strange concept. I don’t even know if we get it any more.

We seem so prone to disqualify it, to deny it’s relevance as a contributing factor in our designs and actions.

Governments are inclined to disengage from basic humanitarian values and needs in order to push forth fundamentalist political concepts.

Businesses promote altered states of reality with the designed intention of affecting what it means to be human.

Then, of course, there are geeks like me.

We often forget that there is no humanity in technology, in the machines and systems we design and build, despite the fact we are designing the world itself, its guts, and even vast tracts of culture.

Does a technological tool ever positively contribute to the condition of the human by its existence? I would argue: very rarely (the last one may have been the printing press).

Instead, technological solutions detract from our existence, devalue it even. They make us less human, less true, less inclined to perform the functions, engage in the habits, and operate in a fashion that makes being human meaningful.

In a sense, as we’ve advanced as a race, with technology as our inspiration, we have deviated from the course of the human condition, of humanity itself.

One may ask, then, what else should we have been if not technological beings? What else may we have become, how may we have advanced without technology?

Which leads me to posit that technology is the singular defining factor of the state of the human.

That which has absolutely altered the meaning of our existence–has virtually lead to the total consumption of our physical environment–is our consummate value as a species.

Because, in a sense, we are nothing without technology.

I have a recurring nightmare.

It’s of the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Frank Herbert’s Dune, magnificently obese and floating around with the aid of “suspensors.” He is both a result of his technological state and totally dependent on it.

My nightmare is of being the person who designed the suspensor, that I willingly enabled an existence such as Harkonnen’s.

Imagine living with the realization that you are the person who turned evolution on its head.

The truth is, such advancements happen in increments. No one person just sat down and designed the suspensor. There were any number of contributing factors, technological minutiae.

So I may very well be living my nightmare. In designing technology-based systems that affect processes and change habits, I may be contributing to that backwards motion of humanity.

I sense that, at some point already, the evolutionary tide of the human race reached its high point and we’re now inventing our way back into the ocean, leaving a slurry of technology on the beach behind us.

Because, really, how many of us wake up every morning with an understanding of what it means to have legs, arms, a neck, a brain?

I don’t mean for the trivial purposes of recreation–to hike, ski, run, write columns.

No, I mean, in the deep, essential sense of it: why do we have arms? Why did we even bother, over millennia, to grow these things? To steer cars? To type? To push chic strollers? To lift weights?

We don’t really know any more. We’ve lost our way as humans. Now we just design and manufacture technologies to act as a salve on that wound of our loss.

And so, ironically, technology becomes an amazing excuse.

It is only by asserting it that we seem able to provide a sense of relevance to our existence.

Imagine: tomorrow the lights go out. The cars don’t run, computers don’t boot, mobile phones don’t dial. The streetlights are all dead and the automatic doors don’t open when you approach.

What do you mean anymore?

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 6, 2009.

4 thoughts on “We Humans Are Nothing Without Technology

  1. bah – poppycock. technology *defines* us as human beings! what separates us from any other living creature (on this planet), but fire, a sharpened rock, a bow, cultivating land? Cellphones, the Internet and the space station all started with the aforementioned pieces of technology. now, whether our technology continues to evolve us or is leading us back to days of fire and rocks, is up for debate. (and, i guess, so is whether we are evolving our technology or it’s evolving us…!)

  2. This is what we do, humans. We tinker, and change, and endlessly imagine a more perfect future. And at the same time, we idealize the past. So we’re trapped. Progress’s constant companion is nostalgia for the way things used to be. The thing we forget about progress: there is no master plan. It lurches forward, in the dark, accidentally, and you’re never sure where it’s taking you. There’s no going back, whether it wants to or not.

  3. Humanity is a huge generalization. There are many cultures in this world that don’t rely on technology the way we do.

    In the event that we lose everything, this is where we look for help and ideas on how to thrive and survive.

    But you’re right, in our culture, what anthropologists refer to as ‘western culture’, technology is what connects us, and even the means to pass on important cultural information.

    Technology is a comfort to us. It’s what we know and it’s easy. I don’t think it’s what defines us though.

    What happens if we lose it all?

    We adapt.

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