Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Philosophical Interlude of the Day

This is an excerpt for a paper I recently had to write for a college class. There's nothing funny about it, except perhaps for the fact that I got a B+ on it. What would be even funnier is if you actually read the whole post. :D

Taking the rise of science and technology in our society into consideration requires us to examine whether its progression has been beneficial to us, in the realms of our species as a whole, in our social circles, and in our individual development. It is important to note that, regardless of what we conclude in this regard, the technological progress of history will endure. Despite protestations we have, however logical or impassioned, the course of the future will be plotted even if it’s without our participation. Based on the present time, it seems that the future will be defined by developments in science and technology. While our past was classified by wars and carved in the visages of the proverbial “great men of their time,” our future will be characterized by the advances in medicine, communication, transportation, and business. The person in our country today that doesn’t boast a presence in the virtual reality of the Internet is viewed as abnormal, and in the future, the integration of technology with our everyday lives will only become more apparent and intimate.

In the vein of communication, technology’s usefulness is undeniable. Because of social networking sites, mobile Internet browsing devices, and many other fascinating developments, the United States is becoming an increasingly global society; an entire world of commerce and education is at our disposal, matching with opportunity the effort any citizen is willing to yield. Interacting with inhabitants of the world demands that we think and act in a way that will benefit not only our country, but all our allies. This incentive breeds an intriguing union of ambition and caution that can steer decisions to benefit the people as a whole. A difference in culture stipulates mutual civility, cooperation requires tolerance, and the interdependency and common goals of nations should bring about peaceful resolution of conflict.

The present era has been deemed the “Information Age,” which would seem to denote a society inundated with knowledge and could reasonably be assumed to contain a dizzying number of scholars—the mysteries of physics, astronomy, math, poetry, and literature have never been more easily accessible to the common man. However, with the advent of immediate knowledge has come immediate entertainment as well. Education is paradoxically hindered by the convenience of obtaining information. It can be reasonably argued that the availability of information discourages, or at least does not facilitate, the need to retain knowledge mentally. When one is presented with the choice of obtaining wisdom through books, lectures, and notes, or the opportunity to simply carry a device that will do your thinking and answer your questions for you, convenience almost invariably triumphs. To be comfortable is the objective; to be empowered or enlightened is secondary.

In addition to the paradox of convenient information, the rise of science and technology has permanently altered the face of social interaction and relationships. On the front of social networking sites, such as Facebook, psychologists have discovered that these mediums can lead to depression when users replace meaningful face-to-face relationships with the website. The reason cited is that people primarily use social networking sites to reflect the best or most intriguing aspects of themselves while failing to mention the frustrations, pain and insecurity that so often mark our existence. This, in turn, convinces the user that their negative emotions are somehow unique and therefore isolated from others (American Psychological Association). For adolescents, romances are defined by Facebook—the present age has introduced an entirely foreign world in which the ebbing and flowing of one’s love life is apparent for everyone subscribed to its activity. Our lives have never been so public. While this frankness may allude to the days past that Rousseau refers to with sentimentality—where, “…our mores were rustic but natural” (Rousseau 4) although “At base, human nature was no better, but men found their safety in the ease with which they saw through each other” (Rousseau 4)—it also breeds the tragedies of exploitation. The private affairs suffered in silence or forgotten for their shame are immortalized in Twitter updates, YouTube videos, and photo albums. This generation is the most carefully recorded one, but perhaps the thoughtless exhibition of our lives has led to its gradual degradation into shallowness and futility.

This expansion of science and technology into our lives and the accessibility of information are comparable to Condorcet’s idea of equality in instruction. Ages past, such as pre-Reformation Germany, knew a distinction between educated and uneducated: the informed knew how to obtain, interpret, and apply information, whereas the uneducated had no such opportunity or skill. In a world where answers are only as far away as the nearest Internet connection, education is theoretically equal. However, these developments have not necessarily profited democracy, especially among people, because it has bred the dependency that Condorcet so adamantly argued against. The opinions of many in politics, for example, are not based on study; rather, what has been edited and diluted into five-second sound bites and Wikipedia articles.

Advances in science and technology have had an indelible impact on our society, many in a positive sense, and has indubitably put us at a disadvantage in other areas. In any case, the society of progress that Condorcet, Rousseau and, to be frank, all relatively optimistic scholars imagine, will never escape our minds. Perhaps a day will occur in humanity’s future when it will not escape our grasp either.

Friday, January 14, 2011

May the Force Be With You

It's been many moons since I posted, Blogger world, but my biweekly hour of meditation seems to have gotten a little longer than intended. Don't worry, though--I've been thinking about you...the whole time. Hee hee hee

I often sequester myself in one of those sticky booths at my local McDonald's and pretend like I'm not staring at people. My cover is maintained because this McDonald's boasts a unique feature: David's "Wisdom Wall," that is to say, the wallpaper is littered with these adorable little motivational adages. Among my favorite are "Don't get on the bandwagon until you can play an instrument" and "If something is wrong and you do nothing, you just created a new standard."

Phrases like these intrigue me. Do you know anyone that truly did anything amazing as a result of one of these quotes? In my experience, when I hear something like "The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible," (Arthur C. Clarke) my imagination sets to work for about 2-3 minutes on its practical application. Words like "clever" and "pragmatic" come to mind. I pour a cup of tea to appear more intelligent.

Then I forget.

The next time one of these adages will come to mind is when you are throwing it out at someone in a difficult situation, in an effort to be genuinely helpful. Nothing says "I care" like being able to tell your friends: "Don't take my word for it. Aristotle said that," or, even better, "Remember that scene in The Office that was just like this? And then Jim, who is clever, pragmatic and helpful said..."

The simple fact of the matter is that when people are faced with an opportunity for real greatness, or equally as likely great failure, they usually call on a fortitude within them worthy of a new motivational poster rather than relying on an inventive little zen phrase that has about as much philosophical sway as a Gummy Bear.

This is true for the brief moments of authentic opportunities to overcome, but for those day-to-day complaints, what are we to do for our loved ones that come to us for advice?

Simple enough. Merely bloat their situation out of proportion until they call on their fortitude muscle (allegedly between the third and fourth ribs). For example:

YOUR CHILD: I want to register for the Science Fair but I'm really nervous!
YOU: You pathetic ninny from Bogus-Town! I'd be nervous too if my science project and fashion sense were as lacking as yours! I would rather take on an army of crazed zombies trained in the ancient art of jujitsu and haiku! You would have to be Isaac Newton's elbow hair to succeed! You know, people have a name for someone like you. You know what it is? Fart-face! Ha ha! If you want to register for that science fair, you've got a battlefield of loneliness, isolation, and rejection ahead of you! Plus no one will like you!
YOUR CHILD: know what? I can do this! (dramatic orchestra begins to play and child storms into lab)
YOU: Ok! Love you sweetie!


Whatever you're going through today, peeps, you can do it!

Oops, I smell funny!