Is our Technology Destroying us?
Or could it be restoring us?
Is Our Technology Destroying Us?
It’s a question folks have been asking since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. (Actually, Plato was concerned over 2,000 years ago that the technological advances of pen and paper would destroy one of the most basic and necessary human faculties: memory.) The idea that new technology distances us from our own selves and each other is as old a thought as any.
When the telephone was invented, people were concerned that face-to-face interaction could die out. When email was popularized, we heard the cry of the death of handwritten letters. And Amazon should have wiped out all of the local grocery stores and retailers by now.
Despite these obvious challenges, what if this new, digital world isn’t depriving us all of our humanity? What if technology is actually restoring, bit-by-bit, pieces of our humanity that were once lost? What if the elements of this digital landscape – wielded with proper reverence and emotional intelligence – could actually restore humanity back to the status it was meant to occupy?
The Digital Environment As Restorative
As humans, we have an obligation to restore both the natural and artificial structures and environments that surround us. Those who work in restorative justice focus on meeting the needs of the perpetrators, victims and communities – as opposed to working for the satisfaction of what may be an outdated or irrelevant legal system. A restorative nurse’s aide helps people regain strength and mobility. Restoration in the workplace is a beautiful thing because it’s about so much more than a paycheck; it’s about making the world a better place, as cliché-sounding as that may be.
How do those of us working in the digital landscape (which, these days, is just about everyone at some level) complete our work in a restorative manner?
Here in Nashville, one of the country’s fastest-growing cities in the United States, there is a strong grassroots sentiment that the historical homes and irreplaceable relics of the music industry’s early days are worthy of preservation. We have a community that views these properties (that a real estate developer might describe in dollar signs and decimal points) as structures with extraordinary intangible value. There’s a frantic restorative spirit at work in the community, as people look to return neglected architectural relics to their former stature.
We see furniture built from “reclaimed” wood. Old scraps “repurposed” into beautiful jewelry. Vintage records “reimagined” in mashups and re-recordings. These are only small slivers, selective examples, of our very human desire to participate in restoration. We are all able to see an inherent value in the people who have come before us and the things they have contributed to the world. It’s our natural inclination to preserve their work and their ways, while contributing to it the uniqueness that only we can bring.
Now, imagine what the world could look like if we could apply this deeply ingrained proclivity for restoration to our digital environment? What if the way we communicated through social media actually made another person more acutely aware of their own humanity? What if our email marketing – something typically perceived as incredibly sterile and un-human – actually lifted another person instead of annoyed them? Is it possible to sell a product and genuinely be your customer’s friend? And most of all, are the critics right? Does our contemporary digital landscape fracture our humanity? Or can we actually leverage the technology and our new styles of communication to become more fully human than we’ve ever been before?
Something to ponder indeed…..