Has technology gone too far?

It’s a question I often think about and am somewhat obsessed in observing in our hyper-digital 21st century society as technology has both liberated and enslaved us in different ways.

Oscar Wilde once said the following:

“Machinery should make useful things so that individuals will be free to make what is beautiful.”

A lot has changed since Wilde’s day. Would he now ask has technology gone too far?

Let’s see.

The blessing of technology

Don’t get me wrong, technology is a blessing.

After all, it has solved some of the biggest world problems, saved millions of lives and opened up opportunities that were never before possible.

From robotic surgeries, machinery that digs wells to reach fresh water to an epic ‘skateboard’ that helps babies with cerebral palsy learn how to crawl…

Communication too has radically transformed thanks to technology.

I’ve enjoyed the benefits of this first-hand after spending time overseas away from friends and family.

Before I would have had next to no contact with them but now thanks to things like Skype I can talk to them face to face.

How has technology freed us?

Wilde was hopeful that technology would free humans up from the tedious, repetitive tasks so that we can instead focus on creating things that are beautiful…

Let’s take a look at some things we have been freed from. 

Doing the dishes

I absolutely hate doing the dishes.

Don’t ask me why but it just bothers me, unfortunately my wife Jaci isn’t fond of them either.

“Both of us were spoiled in the past by having a machine I now consider to be sacred: a dishwasher.”

I have to say it has proven to be the most underrated piece of tech in my life and as my efficient German wife keeps telling me, newer models actually end up saving time, water and money.

Often I feel like I spend so much of my day scrubbing ceramic (even though it’s really not that long) 

Sure it’s a somewhat trivial example, but one that could equate on average to 30 minutes a day (that’s 7.5 days a year.) 

Doing the laundry

When living in Rwanda I had to wash everything by hand.

I enjoyed the experience because it was unique to me but the reality is washing by hand takes FOREVER.

Hand-scrubbing ever single item certainly makes you less prone to throwing something in the dirty pile (the sniff test parameters are also moved dramatically.)

Never before in my life did I appreciate how much time and energy a washing machine saves, especially if you are washing for a number of people. 

Time spent cooking

I’ve just finished reading ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy – a gruesome, but terrific post-apocalyptic novel – and pretty much every meal they eat in the book is cooked over fire.

The hassle it takes to go and find dry wood, light it and keep the fire going just to get a hot meal is enough to make me lose my appetite. 

“Most of us are incredibly fortunate that all we have to do for heat is flick a switch.”

In a similar vein, no longer do we have to grow, hunt or raise our own food, but technology has meant that it is affordable to purchase what we eat.

Transport and getting around

We can travel anywhere in the world in just a matter of hours.

Whether it’s to our work or halfway around the globe, places are more accessible than ever before thanks to planes trains and automobiles. 

Making money/a living

Undoubtedly there have been many drawbacks due to robots replacing humans in the likes of production but the reality is that technology has opened up a world of opportunity when it comes to making money and building a career.

For some time I worked as a writer for a company in Chicago while living in Northern Ireland.

At no other point in history would this have been possible to literally work for someone on the other side of the world.

Our health

A mild but good example of how technology has significantly improved or health is through my mate Steve.

Steve’s diabetes is controlled by a little electrical pump attached to him at all times. 

Not only does it tell him when his sugars are low/high but it also administers the appropriate amount of insulin to regulate it.

Truly incredible. 

All this being said, there is no way to dispute that technology has had some tremendous benefits to mankind – especially when it comes to saving time and freeing us up to pursue developments Wilde would consider beautiful.

(From poetry to curing diseases.)

But has technology gone too far? Are there any drawbacks of these developments?

How technology has enslaved mankind

The above heading conjures up images from The Matrix and while we are not quite there yet it can be argued that technology has enslaved us in many ways.

Slaves to the screen

Did you know that the average individual spends 2 hours a day on social media?

“To put that into perspective that’s over 5 years of an average life.”

I remember a screenwriting professor of mine telling me that when television was first being rolled out people thought it would never surpass radio because ‘you couldn’t look at it around corner’

“The concept of people stopping what they were doing to sit down in front of a machine for entertainment was one that was foreign to them.”

Now many are raised in this way from the time they are babies. 

How this affects our health

A poor diet, low quality sleep and lack of exercise can be linked back to excessive screen time which in turn affects our health.

Unfortunately, our mental health is not exempt from this. 

How this affects our culture

Technology has opened up new activities that lead to extreme cases of isolation, depression, addictions to pornography, excessive gaming, and cyber-bullying.

On a less extreme note, it has caused widespread social detachment.

We tend to live more isolated lives than in the past and miss out on connecting with our friends, families and neighbours in a deep a meaningful way despite us being ‘more connected’ than ever before.

The best place to see this is in a cafe, restaurant, or transport station. 

Look around you, even right now and see how many people are on their phones/laptops rather than interacting with the people sitting across from them.

Kind liberator or cruel master?

In my opinion, technology has proven to be a double edge sword, it has set us free only to enslave us once again.

Wilde’s dream came true, technology liberated us from many tedious tasks but what he didn’t anticipate was that it would demand that free time to paid as a ransom. 

We have an immense opportunity, more so than any other point of humanity to make use of our free time.

Sadly more often than not (myself included) we end up throwing our time away instead of putting it towards creating things that are ‘beautiful.’

Here is a favourite quote of mine from the poet Don Herold

“I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours”

I think this is what many of the great men and women who have gone before us – including Oscar Wilde – would express to us if they saw how we were spending our time today.

But I don’t think it’s technology to blame, but rather ourselves.

It’s our fault, not technology’s

Here’s why I think so:

We are afraid of failure

I think deep down we are afraid to take the risk of starting and creating something because we are afraid that we won’t make it, we won’t be good enough or we’re afraid of what others will think.

We allow procrastination to dominate our lives.

In his amazing book ‘The War of Art,’ Stephen Pressfield writes this:

We don’t tell ourselves “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

The whole book deals with the topic of ‘resistance’ that inexplicable force that fights against us when we try to step out and do something in our lives.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the business of creating and doing something with their lives.

You can purchase it on Amazon (note I will receive a small percentage from the sale) and you can check out my book review of it here.

It’s easier to check out than to remain present

What’s easier?

Lie in bed reading a book or sitting up at the desk to write your own?
Crash on the couch watching TV or apply for a job?
Scroll through social media or deal with a problem in your marriage?

Enough said.

We have extremely busy, flooded, tiresome lives.

There’s no doubt about it, most of us live tired, overloaded lives.

Our jobs/education use so much of our brain power that it can be hard to find the mental energy to create and do things.

But a lot of this we bring upon ourselves. 

We are overstretched, over connected and don’t know how to rest and set good boundaries.

What can we do?

I’m no expert but here are a few things that have worked for me.

1. Set boundaries

Dave Ramsay often says “if you don’t tell every dollar where to go it will decide for you.”

While this is great financial budgeting advice I think the same goes for our time. If we don’t tell each minute where to go I have found technology will actually decide for us.

This works both ways, you can both LIMIT use of technology with boundaries as well as SETTING ASIDE TIME to pursue dreams/passions.

Why not set a day/morning/evening aside to pursue creating something beautiful?

I wrote my first book in its entirety by setting aside Sunday mornings to write.  
A friend of mine has written a kids book over the course of 5 years on his lunch break.

Not everyone is meant to be a writer but by setting aside some time in your calendar you can pursue that thing – the thing you find most true – that you have been putting off all these years.

You’d be surprised how achieving your goals and dreams can depend on small everyday steps. 

2. Retrain our habits

Switch bedtime scrolling to reading and change up your morning social media routine for some stretches and prayer. 

Read ‘The War of Art’ on the toilet instead of checking Twitter.

Ditch the music on your walk to work and just take in the sounds around you.

Spend time in silence.

Connect with the one’s you love.

Turn it off. 

3. Learn to rest

Use the do not disturb mode.

Go to bed earlier.

Make yourself less available to the world and more available to the people and things you really care about.

4. Don’t be afraid.

Last but not least don’t be afraid.

FOMO: the fear of missing out, can be deadly.

Don’t let this fear/anxiety control the way you live.

It won’t matter if you miss the 6 o’clock news.
Those Instagram photos will still be there tomorrow.

Your free time may not. 

Has technology gone too far?

What do you think?

Why not take some time to pause and think about the role technology plays in your life.

“Write out the ways it liberates you and the ways it limits you, then set goals focused on reducing those limitations in your life.”

You don’t have to do it all at once, but you can start today. 

More from Matthew Thompson

Thanks so much for reading this post ‘Has technology gone too far?’

I hope you were able to gather some thought from it and I wish you all the best in your endeavours to create things that are beautiful.

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All the best,

– Matthew Thompson