What we refer today as tech has held great promise for our future. The information revolution as we know it began during the second world war and took off after that in such a profound way, we didn’t really recognize what we were in for. As significant as the Industrial Revolution was, we were never really primed for that which has taken place during its Period. We are in the midst of an upheaval the likes which can only be considered of tremendous significance. When one also considers the time it’s taken for us to get from where we were to now it is blazingly fast. In 1969, Alvin Toffler forecast in his book “Future Shock” a significance of where we’ve come in such a short period and where we’re heading. At the time of his writing, it might have seemed significant the speed at which we were moving but if he to write today it would be shocking,
Literally, we have no time to breath or even begin to take in what is happening before the next big thing happens. In fact, we are getting numb to the conditions but the human race, though endowed with intelligence was never equipped for this kind of upheaval as result of massive change in such a sort period of time.
As in any revolution the constructs that worked to maintain the fabric of the society is questioned and it can have a profound effect on the viability of that system. A revolution by its very nature intends to pull apart at the seams the vestiges of what was. The information revolution is not, in and of itself, a breakaway system based on political aspirations but rather that which resembles what the theorist Jacques Ellul’s espoused in his book “The Technological Society” on Technique. In this article “Jacques Ellul: A Prophet for Our Tech-Saturated Times” his theories are outlined well describing how technique can create a form of self-operating chaos a feature found in most revolutions.
Three Stages so Far Since the Beginning
The information revolution as we know it today began during world war two. This would be considered the first stage. The beginnings of the computer age started with great hope. After the war, computers were built in earnest but mainly for businesses to meet their needs. They were referred to a mainframes and were these huge systems deployed in what is referred to as mainframe houses.
Mainframes were very centralized systems with terminals that required you to work remotely from them. They were very expensive and really only businesses could afford them. They did modernize the way work was being done but the effect of the computer was delimited. That is, we are beginning to see major effects from new technologies but in the beginning it was primarily businesses that benefitted and then their customers for a point of comparison.
The Scope of the Computer Broadens
In stage 2 of the information revolution the scope of the impact of the computer broadens. Now there is what is referred to as the decentralization of computer systems most inherently recognized by the impact of the PC and the Mac. At this point suspicion runs amok. People such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates see the value in computer systems that are controlled by us. It is too big for any one person to handle which led to the synergistic mapping of computer functions which aided the new user to take advantage of what they now had.
Three things were critically essential to the success of empowering the individual or home user of their systems.
- A computer designed for computer functions at the workstation
- The internet which allowed centralized systems to be accessed for all kinds of things from the data stores to storage and the ability to converse and work with other.
- The cloud which many perceived as that great computer in the sky. In reality it was many computer systems that could be remotely accessed for all kinds of functions. Initially, this made the computer companies uneasy till they realized what an advantage this not only created for the user bu manh users around the world. Communication inevitably led to the harnessing of this vast wealth of capability shifting that to those that were able to take effective advantage of the shift which is still occurring.
The Interconnected World
All three stages so far of the information systems revolution has had profound impacts on society and the way we do things. However, it is the third stage, the interconnected stage based on servers and very high speed links that is having the most profound effect not only of society but of our existence within society. In this stage we not only need to understand what we’re doing but we have to understand why we’re doing things in order to survive. Technology is suddenly beginning to control us instead of assisting us in our goings on.
Things like Facebook are driving the need to have as many friends in our lives. Instagram drives how many followers we have. And then on it goes. Things that are happening are depriving us of a rich social life wherein people only talk to people via text. If you only have an answering machine for a phone which few seem to use anymore you’re cast to the fringes and it is the way our information based system is causing both an existential and a real death.
How many people are beginning to measure success by the number of hits they get on their website or their Youtube system. Far too many.
A Complex Problem which is Robbing us of our profound Humanness
The current human brain is thought to be somewhere around 40,000 years old. Over the course of human history we have proven very adaptable but the speed of change has not even come close to what has happened in the last 50 years.
Humans it is known to remain mentally healthy are social and need contact. In fact, given that we are not the most powerful or fastest species on the planet we have survived primarily by a couple of mechanisms.
- Intellectual capacity
- Tribal in the form that we were members of small tribes that looked after each other for things like gathering food and providing safety.
- Our hands are unique in that they are very usable where it comes to building things or providing things.
Of these three, the way current technology is working is at odds with our intellectual and tribal orientations. Our brains are having to adapt at an amazing speed to a new function stressing us. More significantly though is the way in which our social world is being impacted. A tribe of 1000 people on Facebook is basically useless to our safety, social and provisional needs.
In effect, the technology is taking us out of our historical alignment and it is affecting us negatively. The technology is not living up to the promise of a happier, less stress free and healthier life. To the contrary, people are getting addicted to devices like Smartphones and can’t put them down. In addictions theory, the way to break an addiction is abstinence and there is no way to be abstinent when tech is so much a part of the human fabric.
Something as simple as going out to a bar to connect with others in a mutually conducive way is giving out to us sitting behind our devices, alone, isolated and longing. This is not a good recipe for mental health.
Is there an Answer
The one thing about the human spirit is its ability to solve problems and adapt to situations. High on the list though is acceptance or being aware of the problem in the first place. Only then can we apply ourselves to resolve the problem.
One of the promises of tech is reduced stress through a more balanced life of work and play. We have found ourselves in a conundrum that includes the opposite. People are suffering from very high levels of stress, depression, anxiety and disconnection. Rather than working less, many are working far more than they used to. Some can’t find work while others have to take on two and three jobs to support themselves. If you have a job and it is a good paying job which you’re skilled at your work week often involves far more hours than in the past or for some they find they are doing the work that three people did at one time.
Where and how is tech balancing our lives and work week. Does it provide what we truly need as humans. Some treat it as fun or a hobby when they are actually addicted and many have no problem admitting to an addiction that could be costing them a lot of money; the friends they need; the social skills to normally interact with others and on it goes.
In Jacques Ellul’s theory put forth in “On Technology” he said as the winds start to cripple us too much in a direction comes countervailing techniques to bring balance and harmony back. The Industrial Revolution saw this very thing happen when people formed unions to re-balance the work contract.
None of this will be easy with the information revolution as systems are so integral now to societal operations. Can you imagine if the internet went down for a week what would happen. However, eventually, as our technologies push us further from our roots there will be some counter-vailing technique to re-introduce humanness to the human. If this were not to happen, it is hard imagine what would become of the world.