With new technologies come new problems. Technology and change inevitably come upon us as one. As humans we continually push ourselves to be capable of more than we were yesterday, but with the tools at hand we are only able to do so much. Thus we create something that makes us capable of more than we are without it. Technology is (or should be at its best) a way to more efficiently harness the human will. The problem is that there is always a cost. It’s not the free boost to human efficiency that we would all like it to be, yet often treat it as though it is. And that’s the problem. It’s a matter of maximizing the benefit while minimizing the cost. Yet we often simply ignore the cost until it has piled up in a way that offsets the original benefits. Then we get the backlash of those unwilling to change who point at the negative effects caused by the technology while ignoring all of the benefits. Change is inevitable. Blinding ourselves to either side of the equation is foolish.
Thoreau didn’t think much of the telegraph when it was the new form of communication. “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” He may have been right, or maybe not. But the fact is that after its invention practical uses were found for it. And the telegraph was the beginning of our rush towards mass communication. I find it hard to believe that the internet would exist without the telegraph (or the telephone, or other similar devices) having been invented first. Technology is only as damaging or useful as we allow it to become. It may be hard to believe that as it sometimes seems like a monolith dropped down upon us from above, but its people’s use of it that determines its effects. It’s hard to steer an entire culture, but that culture is still made up of individuals that make up the collective whole.
Facebook is a popular target for derision. And that derision isn’t entirely unearned. But to those that complain about it I wonder: a) Why are you using it? or b) If you’re not using it then why worry about it? It’s become a point of pride with some that they are not on Facebook (or whatever social media platform they have a problem with). But that’s just ignoring the reality of modern life. Don’t use it if you don’t want to, but pride in that seems ridiculous. There are problems with the way a lot of people use social media. The reflexive checking of Facebook when one is bored and subsequent hour lost to mindlessly scrolling their news feed is one. It’s something that I have dealt with too. But that’s not the fault of Facebook. That’s us being unwilling to take a hard look at what we are trying to use Facebook for rather than what it is actually intended for and capable of. Facebook is a good tool for connecting with people that would be otherwise hard to interact with through other means. I am connected to people that I would likely not see or hear from more than once every several years simply because they are not located near me. But I am able to stay in touch with them through Facebook. It’s a great tool for that kind of interaction. I value that capability. What it is not is a salve for our increasingly separated and lonely existence. Rather than having an actual conversation with a friend we scroll through their feed and get a weak version of the feeling of social activity we would get in person. It feels good for a moment and can trick our brains in to thinking we’re being social, but it’s not true. And eventually that truth comes to us in the form of depression, and loneliness, and feelings of social isolation. But to combat those feelings we just go back to the imitation for more and shun the real thing. It’s a negative feedback loop. Again, that’s not the fault of Facebook. It’s our willing blindness. There are areas in all parts of our lives where we become unwilling to look at the uncomfortable truth over the pleasant lie. But in the long run that self-deception is destructive.
We need the courage to be open to the self-examination required to be a healthy human being. Self-examination brings self-awareness. That isn’t always a pleasant state of being. But it is a necessary one if we want to be creatures of any integrity. The pleasant lie is a temporary comfort that leads to a deep existential emptiness. The uncomfortable truth, while sometimes difficult to deal with, is the only way we are going to make progress personally and mature as a people.