Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Quote about Technology's Affect on Our Wonder

"It may be that as civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. But it is ironic that just as technology frees us to be full human beings, not mere survivors of the earth's rigors, at this very moment we may be about to lose the whole planet because we have lost our sense of wonder. For finally only reverence can restrain violence, violence against nature, violence against one another."

--William Sloane Coffin in Credo

Okay, so I've been meaning to post this for a month because I really liked this quote. He's right--it's a crucial Catch-22. It's easy to be amazed at first at how easy things become to do with technology, but our sense of entitlement tends to grow with the easier things are to do. And when we feel entitled it's hard to be amazed by things. And when we're not amazed by things it's hard to treat them with respect. And when we're used to being not-amazed at some things it's easy to become not amazed by other things. I'm not one for the slippery slope, but this argument has more irony and reality to it than slipperyness. Some genuine food for thought. (Hm, funny how sometimes it takes me a month to decide that's really all that needs to be said.)


Anonymous said...

Apparently, it's pretty nourishing food for thought, because I spent most of the day thinking about this. I wanted very much to refute it somehow.

I work at a company that engineers both hardware and software. The people I work with are probably among the most steeped in the hallowed halls of technology in the world. Yet we have a company hiking blog. We compare our experiences in traveling the world and share in the simple pleasure of the outdoor life. Of the desktops I've noted today while walking about, well over half were outdoor scenes, caught on camera by the person whose desk they were from. In this technological temple, the principal icon of worship remains the natural world.

But perhaps the danger doesn't lie with the curators of technology. In this group lies an understanding of how difficult it is to make things easy. Our job is to understand and to a certain expent exploit the relationships between things, but with that understanding of patters comes an understanding of our fundamental conection to and dependance on nature.

The danger lies with the consumers of technology. It is with those who choose to revere it as being somehow superior to nature rather than ultimately subserviant to it. And this group far outnumbers the small cadre of thinkers and builders, but ultimately it is the thinkers and builders who supply the tools for use by the masses. That is, I think, the narrow escape from this Catch-22, and it is one that I believe many are conciously or unconciously committed to following.


Deborah Leiter said...

Thanks for the very interesting thoughts, CJF. I think you're right that the danger doesn't lie quite as much with the curators of technology--though I've certainly seen it there too, including in myself: "Now if we just plan out the facets of that browsing system just right, we'll manage to hone down the complex patterns of how people do things into a nice little box and then we won't have to mess with as many pesky customer service complaints." Hm, very respectful to the complexity of human nature to try to cram it into (dare I say) a matrix.

So yeah, there were reasons I wanted to step back and study from a broader view what technology was doing to us as a society before I decided whether I wanted to step back into the ring full-time... It's a big responsibility--shaping technology and trying to be fully cognizant of what you're doing at the same time.