The universal interdependency of everything is becoming increasingly accepted as a fundamental reality. However, its impact on everyday activities remains limited because of the dominating influence of “me-first” or “us-first” forms of individualism on contemporary lifestyles. Today, it is very easy to forget about our interdependence while ensconced in the individually-tailored goods and services brought to us by modern technologies.
Many, if not most of us live in what we can reasonably call a techno-culture. With our personal electronic communication and computing devices, and our highly technologized involvements with commercial, industrial, entertainment, and regulatory (governmental) organizations, our daily lives are saturated with technology-driven objects and activities. And this situation leaves little or no room for us to have a significant influence on many aspects of our everyday lives. In fact, all too often there isn’t even much awareness of the extent to which our lives have become technologized. For instance, most social media platforms operate in ways that mask the fact that it is the technology, not the user of the technology, that determines the parameters within which activities occur. And in other contexts, being able to express likes and dislikes, and having multiple options with respect to making a choice of some kind are not the same as being able to express our opinions as we would like to or being able to create our own options.
Numerous 20th century scholars have drawn attention to the complex issues and concerns related to the hegemony of technology in contemporary life. Neil Postman (1931–2003), for example, described this dominance as a “totalitarian technocracy” in which “tools play a central role in the thought-world of the culture,” and “everything must give way, in some degree, to their development.” [See, Technopoly (1993), p.28.] Of course, our involvement with technologies has always been and will always be an indispensable aspect of human life. But the issue in today’s world is not about the utility and benefits of technology; it is about surrendering ourselves to its mindset and methodologies. For the most part, technologies are geared towards specific objectives and therefore function prescriptively and mechanistically, which implies that they are intrinsically one-sided in terms of drawing on the full powers of human consciousness.
Technology is about expanding our ability to be physically involved with our world, which in large part entails being able to predict and control behaviors and outcomes. However, human consciousness gives us a capacity to expand our involvement with the world beyond what is physically perceptible: it allows us to imagine and intuit what exists before and after physical events, so that our minds can be genuinely creative, in the sense of being open to an infinite array of possibilities. Given the wholeness of human consciousness, it is short-sighted to rely soley or even primarily on our technological prowess. Yes, with technologies we can acquire knowledge about the physical aspects of our world and manage many of our everyday activities. But can we live as fully as possible if our involvement with technology weakens our imaginative and intuitive capacities? Surely, we need the creative energy of insight and inspiration to keep us in contact with the full potential of both ourselves and our world.
Recent technological advances have been so rapid, extensive, and intoxicating that to a great extent we have collectively inured ourselves to the dangers of allowing a technological mindset to dominate our lives. It is as if we have suddenly been made aware of possessing an extraordinary capacity for controlling many aspects of our involvement with the world and have decided to dash headlong into exploiting it without careful reflection about the ramifications of doing so. I have often thought that this situation mirrors a critical moment in human development when individuals transition from childhood into adulthood, and must learn, or relearn, how to integrate their new mental and physical capacities into their surrounding environments. And given the ever-changing nature of our world, this process of integration is always a work in progress.
In the 1960’s, Marshall McLuhan drew our attention to our changing world in a dramatic way by noting how new communication technologies are creating a “global village” [See, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), and Understanding Media (1964)]. In keeping with this observation, we need to respond to the technological growth-spurt of recent decades in a globally-significant way, which implies that, as individuals and groups, we need to align our thoughts, feelings, and actions with our fundamental interdependence.
In summary: There are many facets of our involvement with current technologies that reinforce a “sense of being separate” from others, of isolating ourselves (as individuals or groups) in ways that are focused primarily on our individual needs and desires. [Consider, for instance, how “normal” it seems to use communication devices to control interactions rather than genuinely participate in them.] Given this situation, we owe it to ourselves and our world to reflect on how we use technologies. And if we find that we often prioritize me-first or us-first behaviors as we go about our daily activities, we owe it to ourselves and our world to change course, because that is a path that leads us away from awareness of our interdependence and, ultimately, from participation in the fullness of life.
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Living in the middle of things involves a willingness