Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Losing Access To Our Humanity

Schramsberg Estate, Calistoga, California, USA

September 9, 2016



"The cost to this generation is enormous. They are losing access to their humanity."
 ... 
speaking with the New York Times about the numbing effects of digital technology on millennials



I've been around tech for a long  time. Of course it wouldn't be true to say I've been around tech longer than anyone else has. But it would be true to say I've been around tech longer than most. I first programmed a computer in 1970 at my alma mater, UCT  (University of Cape Town) in South Africa, to statistically analyze my psychology thesis* research data. Back then, there were no screens for output or input. Copious sheets of paper printout provided output. Input was performed by punching holes in cards, one card for each instruction, which the CPU  (Central Processing Unit) read via a "card reader" (and yes, it was a real  card reader and not a virtual  one ... but that's a subject for another conversation on another occasion). Even a small program required a couple of shoeboxes of punched cards, or more.

In 1976 as an analyst programmer with IBM  (International Business Machines) in Wellington New Zealand, I experienced the very first iteration of social media. At an entirely dark eighty column twenty four line model 3270  screen, I entered a user command via a keyboard, which sent the green tinted message "What are your plans for lunch?" to my friend Phil's screen (Phil was working in another part of our building). He replied "Not now, busy.". Just those three green tinted words appearing on my otherwise dark screen (take that, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter!) was awesome. It was 1976. It was science fiction come true. I was very, very  excited.

In the last forty six years, digital technology has taken unimaginable strides. What it's now able to do, is augmenting our lives in more ways than anyone could have ever dreamed of. But listen: the other side of this is what it's costing  us. And its cost is enormous. It's costing us our access to our humanity. Let me elaborate.

Consider this: we gain access to our humanity through our speaking  and our listening. Now I'm not saying that like it's "The Truth". Rather, I'm saying it like it's something to consider like a possibility - like "Hmm ... maybe  we gain our access to our humanity through our speaking and our listening?". Simply put, consider that who we really are as human beings, is constituted in language  - or (said another way) consider that who we are as human beings, is our word. And when I say "Who we are as human beings, is our word", I include both our spoken  word and our listened  word. It's clear who we are is our spoken word ie it's clear we're responsible for what we speak, yes? What's not always so clear is who we are is also our listened  word, at least in two ways: one, we're responsible for the quality  of the way we listen others; and two, we're responsible for the way whatever we speak lands  for others in their  listening.

Consider this too: our access to our humanity is actually more than merely through our speaking and our listening. To be rigorous in this distinction, an additional qualification is required, which is this: it's through our speaking and our listening in close up, in-person, face to face, linguistic  conversations. Those are four descriptors of conversations which, for all intents and purposes, are almost totally missing from social media and the digital technology in which we're more and more involved, with which we're more and more obsessed, and to which we've more and more sold out  (and to which we've also more and more bought in). Herein lies the enormous cost of digital technology: it's costing us our access to our humanity.

<aside>

Were I speaking loosely, I may have said "Herein lies the terrible  cost of digital technology" rather than "Herein lies the enormous  cost of digital technology". It really is  a terrible cost.

The thing is there's more opinion and righteousness in "terrible" than in "enormous", something I'd like to steer as clear of as I possibly can. My personal opinion only gets in the way of what I distinguish.

<un-aside>

Here's the rub: close up, in-person, face to face, linguistic conversations are almost totally missing from social media and digital technology. When we're seduced into no longer communicating in close up, in-person, face to face, linguistic conversations, then like athletes' muscles not stretched, practiced, worked out, or trained, they atrophy and waste. Analogy aside, it's clear that what will atrophy and waste as a result of the numbing effects of digital technology, is our access to our humanity.

That's an enormous  cost to this generation, I'd say.


* I titled my thesis "An Investigation Of The Relationships Among Authoritarianism, Rigidity, And Social Distance In An Authoritarian Climate Such As South Africa", typing it out laboriously on an old-fashioned Remington  typewriter.


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