The ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self. (Jonathan Franzen)I've got a lot of years behind me now, enough to have lifetime events written into high school history books. I've witnessed the advent of the Bic Pen, color TV, automatic washing machines, electric typewriters, countertop toasters, microwave ovens, touch-tone phones, automatic transmissions, cable TV, cell phones, digital cameras and personal computers connected to the Internet.
Almost within my lifetime, since 1950, the population on Earth has doubled. Not allowed to use a pen until 4th grade and disappointed that the beginning of the Wizard of Oz was in black and white despite a bright, shiny, new color TV in our living room has had more of an impact on daily life than the increase in the number of people. That change seems to relegate its impact on daily life when driving the highways, city streets or the once-quiet back roads of country living. The population explosion seems a bit subliminal, though changes in society itself are reflected in the declining strengths of the institution of marriage with less than half of households now headed by a husband and wife, the dissipation of the extended family, the fading away of the strength of the church and the increase in income disparity.
The flurry of innovation marks the transition from the Industrial to the Information Age, and that head-spinning whirlwind of change can’t but have a marked impact on the individual – you and me.
“Quit being a product of your childhood” is one of my favorite notions fostered by an insane belief in freedom of choice, a freedom not realized until the notion of responsibility takes hold. It’s not – but it is – the foundation of individualism so despised by other cultures, and so not a choice of our own.
Any mother can attest that when a child is taken to a park, that child will be just as interested in the grass, bugs, sand, dirt, water, a breeze – nature – as the child is interested in playground equipment. Toys may capture attention for a few minutes, but the dog or cat captivates endlessly. Nothing teaches cause and effect better than nature itself. Nature drives the fundamental need for food and shelter and love and acceptance, and nature provides need fulfillment.
So while technological advances may seem to be winning the push-me-pull-you tug-of-war with nature, that doesn’t mean that we can escape nature. Simply put, we can’t escape ourselves, our Me. Changed is the way Me is taught, built and realized, but that does not mean that Me no longer has a role to play. Quite the contrary.
The responsibility we all have is to realize the nature, the fundamental power of Me. By taking responsibility, freedom of choice becomes natural and enables the We at the basis of Me. Without this inherent growth, individualism takes on its nasty connotations, nature is denied, and all Hell breaks loose.
I learned yesterday that a tornado forms when warm air rises and punches a hole through a blanket of cold air above it. It is uncontrolled nature in pure, devastating form. No, we can’t control it and yes, it is indifferent to our wishes. But, is a tornado more destructive to us than the denial of our own nature?
You see, a sense of self can’t be built by a ‘Like’ on Facebook. Asynchronous comments can’t reveal the impact of hurtful words, intended or not. Though online anonymity fosters unconditional acceptance, it is an illusion solely because it is man made and not natural. And, it does little to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. I’m sure the intent was to enhance fulfillment of basic needs, but the lack of awareness has driven that noble intent in the opposite direction. It has all become just another way to pull the wool over our eyes, to separate and dominate, to deny our very nature.
Yes, it has been a whirlwind, a flurry of change, these last 50 years. Through it all, I’ve remained optimistic. Technological advances can still realize its intent of freeing man from basic toils to evolve intellectually and, as a side effect, spiritually. All it takes is awareness of responsibility.
“When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting,” said Franzen, but all you have to do is open your door, feel the sun on your face, the wind in your hair and the Earth beneath your feet again. Nature is still there, in all its glory, and it’s ready for you to rejoin it, despite yourself.
Are you ready for The Real Thing?