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.