Advertising a Post-Humanistic Society
I just read the most fantastic treatise by Leon Wieseltier, published on nytimes.com, and I have to say that it truly speaks to me, and to many people around the world.
Have you ever thought that technology was progressing far to fast? That humanity is not ready for the leaps and bounds of technological advancement that is starting to pop up on a regular basis and increase in popularity? Think about it for a moment: As a race, we are developing functional, artificially intelligent robots, cars that are singularly smarter than some drives, and with more awareness (for those who can afford them), as well as giving some technology companies virtual control over our lives. I’m looking right at you, Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp!, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon. These are companies, that for better or for worse, have taken the reins of technological advancement and are developing their own rules for humanity.
Let’s define some of these terms before we delve too much farther into the depth of what we consider modernity:
1. Humanism – “A rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matter.” Oxford English Dictionary
2. Posthumanism – Is best defined as the idea that technology will take over much of traditional human interaction, and will facilitate the human experience in non-organic terms (this is a contextual definition of the very literal: after-humanism)
3. Technology – “Machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge” Oxford English Dictionary
4. Modernity – Definition 1.1 “A modern way of thinking, working, etc.; contemporariness” Oxford English Dictionary
Knowing these terms, and understanding their definitions in the context of Mr. Wieseltier’s article makes it that much easier to understand.
A forewarning: This is not the easiest article for those with lesser vocabularies, so if you are intrigued, ensure you have a dictionary on hand to help learn the words you do not already know.
To summarize, Mr. Wieseltier makes a compelling point that technology is not our friend. Technological evolution has progressed far faster than humanity has, and in the process of doing so, we are at risk of losing the very things that make this race of beings, human. For instance, the theory of humanism revolves around the idea of humanity working for humanity, and human action as the primary focus and emphasis in human life. This is not to say that we should not believe in spiritual beings that are intangible, but rather that it is our actions that determine our fate.
We are rapidly deviating from this path.
The Technological Revolution’s PR Campaign against Social and Spiritual Interaction
If you do not agree, or believe this statement, all you have to do is look around you. How often do you go to work and sit at a computer and do nothing? How often do you spend browsing the web, but not working, or learning? What social interactions do you have on a regular basis with actual humans, and not through the intermediaries that exist in our lives? What actual production have you accomplished? These are all questions you can answer that will indicate that we are moving away from humanism, to a posthumistic thought, and I do not believe that this is right for humanity.
How many of your children know what a library is? Ok, so how many of your children have actually been to a library. I thought so. How many of your children actually know how to find a book in a library using a card catalogue, or the Dewey Decimal System, or other catalogue process? Ah. See? That’s the crux of the issue.
We are all, myself included, so ingrained in the web of technology that we cannot escape. Our livelihoods depend on understanding how best to utilize technology. Our jobs require us to spend 8 hours a day on the computer. When I get home, all I want to do is play video games or play apps on my smartphone. I totally get it, but this is the evolution of humanism that Mr. Wieseltier and I are suggesting we arrest.
I am going to go a step farther than Mr. Wieseltier now. He is of the opinion that as technology and modernity advance it will be ever more important for humanism in action to be strong and vibrant. I am of the opinion that while that is the case, we should ultimately have a technological revolution. We need to break free from this dependance on technology. The internet is a great tool, but using it for the vast amount of irrelevant and irreverent actions that much of humanity does, it diminishes the good that it can have. When humanity allows a handful of companies to control the function of this worldwide entity, and determine what knowledge is public and available for consumption, let alone signing away our rights without knowing it, then we have willingly ceded our possession of humanism to those who have no concept or appreciation of it.
I want my son to grow up in a world where technology is appreciated and can make his life easier. But I do not want to live in a world where humanity does not know how to act, function or even communicate with other beings in a social and positive atmosphere, and that is where we are headed. Just look at how you “text” you friends. Remember grammar and punctuation? I do.
Humanism, Posthumanism, or a Technological Revolution: Where do you stand?
I enjoyed reading the piece you’ve reflected on here, Joel. The sentence that stuck out to me most was the author arguing that there is, “no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past.” What a vey human thing to say. Aren’t we all afraid of being a thing of the past. Now we are. My grandfather used to speak of the past with pride, humility and in a way that seemed as if he was searching to get a piece of it back. Now we are consumed with consumerism – looking younger, staying younger, and being more relevant than we were the day before. As a budding journalist during my time as an undergraduate, we spoke of print media being a thing of the past. How were we to stay relevant in an industry that was being swallowed whole by blips of video, smaller nut graphs and less timely information. Indeed we were writing for nothing. We were righting to stay relevant. Blog after atrocious blog is written depicting the same narrative over and over. The overworked, the underpaid, the self-effacing looking for an anonymous moment in the foreground. Have we done this to ourselves? I think yes. A famous comedian refers to it as TBD – or too busy disorder. We are too busy trying to appear busy that nothing gets done. We sacrifice lost time with families for made up hours in an office. We have become expressionless in a society that has always praised expression – trading in our smiles and laughter, for acronyms and emojis. Technology has progressed faster because that’s what technology does. We use it before we know it, intimately. And by the time our dashing love affair with a certain piece of technology begins, another mistress waits in the wings.
Oh, but Cara, I think that last piece is a step too far no? Or maybe it isn’t a step too far, but an over simplification. I agree with everything else, because we are being driven further into that soundbite culture. But, I do not think we begin again with new technology, at least not generationally. I think our generation will love our iPads and Notebooks, and iMacs forever, but whatever new innovation that comes along, because most of this is not unique, will enamor our children, and so on.
It’s like old video games. What we have now is not really new, but an advancement upon an idea. The concept of better graphics began and evolved, but in 20 years we may not be talking about high definition graphics. We may be talking about how our movies are made of holograms, and that is a scary thought to me. Our generation is used to technology speeding along and adapting too it. But I think the love affair with new, (and this is the qualification I think) unique technology begins a new cycle.
I could be wrong about that, but I think the premise must stand unchallenged. Humanity is losing itself and our ability to communicate because we adapt to newer and easier technology faster than we adapt our survival to technology.