February 1, 2024

GLASGOW | Don’t Let Them Erase You 

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We are actively living through the death of humanity, and it need not mean the death of humans.

In regards to innovation, it is essential to have nuance when analyzing development; there can be meaning in being content with an invention that destroys industries. The advent of cars was certainly a nightmare for the horse industry, but opposing it would have been contrary to a car-dependent guaranteed future. 

The technological innovation of this young century has bettered the lives of millions, but in many respects, it has marched too far. Especially in relation to our mobile devices, we have long neglected meaningful development in place of arbitrary updates and purposeless new models.

The foundation of democracy rests on its people, and the tech in our daily lives destroys the connection between them. An individual can be the match that ignites a generation, but these igniting ideas are worthless without an audience; participation in leagues, cohorts and groups is essential to the foundation of a free society.

It is precisely the advent of mobile technology that threatens a free society through its corruption of social groups and meaningful societal organizations.

The dissolution of cohorts did not start all that recently. Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone described America’s decline of community and social isolation as of the year 2000. Renowned political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s 1951 novel titled The Origins of Totalitarianism went a step further and categorized this societal loneliness as a precondition for totalitarianism. Social groups are incredibly important to implementation of social movements and the development of society as a whole. 

Cornell Professor Alexander Livingston emphasizes the importance of these groups in his class on “Civil Disobedience,” articulating that the differentiation between illegal disobedience and legal conscientious objection is the fact that conscientious objection rests on groups and associations rather than individuals.

Everything is so fast these days; the expectation to respond to messages immediately, coupled with the lack of a border between rest and work in life that our devices create is akin to eternal damnation. Regardless of the class, the weekly discussions that I have attended at Cornell are full of students looking at their devices. Classrooms no longer represent a dialogue between its educators and students. Friendships have digressed from meaningful conversations and eye contact to sterile and mechanized interactions. The anti-creative, intellectually persecutory and isolated conditions of a totalitarian society that Hannah Arendt and so many other experts describe is irrefutably the symptom and direction of modern life.

I only take notes with pen and paper. I try to think about the souls of my professors. I look into people’s eyes when I speak to them, wanting to hear everyone’s story. These and other personal policies that I have taken in my life have improved my reality drastically but fail to give me the key to ultimate satisfaction. I come full circle in my writing to emphasize the importance of society and social groups rather than the individual.

In political and public discourse it’s becoming increasingly common to complain about the lack of social groups and democratic processes, without anyone collectivizing and changing the status quo — my writing falls into this maw of reaffirming cycles.

It’s important to become content with the idea of being plugged in. We’re going to see computer chip implants being advertised as a ‘simple procedure’ that ‘only take a minute and look like a birthmark.’ We’re already living in a post-truth world when it comes to information, so it won’t be such a jump for people to live in a false reality; where what you believe to be facts are already an individual alteration of reality. I often wonder if a new class of Luddites and Amish will appear in this century, refusing further development but keeping their phones and washing machines. I can’t foresee myself in this branch of people, because then I would be just like the horse coachmen trying to ignore Ford’s assembly line in the early 1900s. There can sometimes be more impact in becoming a lion and going into the lion’s den, because escaping will leave you behind and make you the prey. In attempting to escape technology, one will only become an agent of inaction developing inability to change anything within a world that is accessible to them. 

Yes, new technologies and trends in society are dehumanizing us and promoting the gentrification of a people as a species. But we need to learn how to survive, stay conscious and thrive in the coming world: Trying to prevent these changes is futile when the path has unfolded this far. 

In the same sense that unlikeable radicals are often society’s greatest reformers, I try to highlight the societal mobilization, poverty alleviation and convenience that our modern technological comforts afford us. I am nevertheless aware of a limit to positive radicalism. Rather than viewing technology as a helping hand, we need to begin viewing it as an extension of the human hand. The danger in technology stems from an inability to view it in the context of the human experience; we augment our bodies, feel emboldened to spit evil words that we would never say in person and tread so far as to apply digital behaviors into the real world instead of the other way around. Even if one is to look at a screen for every second of their lives, it has purpose if their conscience finds meaning to it that adds positive change into their life. 

Loneliness and isolation are much more of a mental state than a physical condition. By following the crowd, people can find themselves the most isolated that they’ve ever been. So the matter of human development, group formation and building relationships oddly reverts back to individualism, only in the right direction. I am a believer in humanity’s ability to know what is of the highest power, and what can benefit themselves and the world — the matter of getting to this point is simply consistent self reflection and intentionality that is often lost in the hypnotic cycle of pressing buttons and moving onto the next assignment.  If you’re going to write an essay, then have fun with it. If you’re joining a zoom meeting, turn on the camera and make your light shine. If it’s 2044 and you’re going to work through a chip, make people feel something and give them a show in the alternate reality. When something doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t — make it right; those who lack empathy are nothing compared to the billions that do.

The purpose of this writing, then, is a completely unoriginal and conventional idea: Ask yourself specifically what kind of life you want to live. In addition to the purgatory of tech advancement, the current youth is tasked with climate problems, political polarization and persistent uncertainty. The problems faced today are nothing new. All great problems tread on the question of what it means to be human, but our eventual colonization and decolonization of alien life forms could easily take out the human. More importantly, what does it mean to be alive? What is the meaning of life?

Leo Glasgow is a second year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. His fortnightly column Can We Talk focuses on student life, domestic and international politics and social issues. He can be reached at [email protected]

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