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Will Technology Make You a Better Person?

May 7, 2009

koyaanisqatsi patchwork

These days, the self-help book is ubiquitous. Everyone’s got a solution for everyone else – or at least a significant enough portion of everyone else to convince a publisher to lay out money for a printing. But our attraction to self-help goes deeper: we are made to believe by various popularizers that various technologies and products will solve our problems. (Bowflex, anyone?) Since when was technology ever something other than a technique – a means – to attain a particular end?

Well, it’s not right to say we’re made to believe it; there’s no argument. We’re presented what we may assume are the results.

And so in the world of image it might seem that all it takes is an allergy pill to move us into that eternal spring day (how this works in January is not discussed.)

Not to be overly facetious (too late by three paragraphs) but,  Everything that competes must also compete in how it sells itself. From this we remember – ‘sex sells’. This is not ‘the whole bill of goods‘ as they used to say, though. Sex sells is simply a part of selling you the better you; the you that you want to see or be. (What do you think the appeal of was?)

So here’s the doozy: Do you think that we are being sold the internet (for recall that even though the internet is essentially free, a computer and an internet connection are NOT.) on the premise it will make us better people?

Watch a Comcast ad; a Verizon ad, see Dell and Mac. Do you suppose that people who have computers and the internet are better overall – because they are connected to information they would not otherwise have, can communicate faster, can buy things that might have been out of their reach, and so forth?

Doesn’t the fact that we’re racing to get computers cheap enough so that most people in the ‘3rd World’ can have one say what we refuse to say explicitly, the elephant in the room? Have you ever recommended to someone, based on their circumstances, that they NOT use the internet, that they AVOID purchasing a computer? For reasons other than budget?

If you’re reading this entry, probably not. In fact, if you’re reading this on a Mac, you can probably add style and sophistication to the benefits of that technology you would consider recommending.

Okay, take the Bowflex that I mentioned earlier. Anyone with enough money can buy an exercise machine and let it sit in their basement, unused. That is to say, the lazy man is still lazy. The technology does nothing to change that. What the machine can do is allow him to make a better use of his time exercising. But the machine will not make him that ripped gentleman who is always curling his bicep – and who wears more body oil than a medieval king.

What about the Internet? Does it really make people better? I can get an invitation digitally over Facebook instead of in the mail, and each message is ‘free’, but that is only if I have all of the things necessary. Facebook is faster, but those who don’t want to respond, or can’t make decisions, still fail to say ‘yes or no’ to your invitation. You know it!

The gossipers still gossip; the oddballs still are oddballs. The jerks find a way to keep being jerks; people keep their secrets secret. Sure, books get published online, and news gets spread faster via blogs and people get called out for corruption.

But has corruption in DC ceased because of the internet? Have the budgets been balanced? Have men come together in like mind? The fact that newspapers are dying because they gave their content away for free will be a lesson for future newspapers (and still existing ones.) – the lesson? Don’t.

Has anything really changed?
Come Together

Facebook and Twitter will not make you a better person. They might not even make you a better-informed person. Heck, they could just make you a more distracted, less focused person. So for whatever reason you use a new technology, consider it a means to an end.

The question we should ask always is, “What does it do?” and “Do I want to do that?”

With the use of Twitter and Facebook around the world rising, clearly there is a market for “being distracted every 5 seconds by random conversation around the world.” Of course, we call it the ‘Status Update.

Sounds hypocritical, maybe, that the technology guy is writing like a Luddite!

To be fair, I prefer to get my distraction by reading and writing blog posts.

Humor and self-deprecation aside, my point is that the world of the internet is not any different than the world outside of it. The more it is used and the easier it is to use the more it will look like the rest of our society.

So no, technology won’t make you a better person. It won’t make you a worse person either – it will just change the means by which you do what you already do.

And that’s worth thinking about.

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