The Paradoxical Freedom of Technology

// Posted by on 01/19/2014 (11:11 PM)

Cassaundra Fincke


The first two chapters of From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner address some interesting historical events that have heavily contributed to today’s culture surrounding technology.  One of Turner’s discussions which I found particularly interesting deals with the student stigma surrounding computational terms. In the 1960s, the advances in technology, particularly concerning the military, gave this new technology a sense of power. As such, people began likening human functions and states to terms used to describe machinery. For example, the term “networks,” which is an operating system in a computer, began to be used to describe the inner workings of the human brain. Students in the 1960s presented a backlash against this movement as they did not want to be thought of as merely one bit of functionality in an overall machine. However, this idea is not completely extinct in present times.

Although people still use computational terms, I do not believe they have the same negative stigma or frequency they once did. In my personal experience at college, I find the times that I tend to think of my brain as a computer or calculator are linked to certain subject matters. For example, when I am working on an analysis such as this, I feel that my brain is more humanistic in that it perceives things differently than others thus allowing me to have a different opinion or perception than someone else. This is because an analysis is very opinion-oriented, and thus unique for every individual. Conversely, I have always felt a bit more mechanic and like part of a process when working on a math or science equation as there is usually a designated way to solve these problems making people just a part of the equation. For someone like me who is not very gifted in these areas, it can be comforting to know that there is a specific method I need only “plug into” my mind to carry out. However, I would be just as troubled as the students who revolted if this mentality permeated into all areas of life. While power is something virtually everyone seeks and values, it is dehumanizing to associate this power with such a rigid piece of technology, like a computer.

Interestingly enough, we now tend to believe that technology has freed us rather than constrained and dehumanized us. But is this really the case? Technologies like cell phones and computers, which were originally meant to keep us connected can often now do just the opposite. All too often people are glued to their phones while in the middle of an in-person “conversation” only contributing to the topic by mechanically muttering “yeah” at the appropriate times. We tend to Google search answers to opinion questions rather than thinking through things for ourselves. Sometimes people even text or call each other from different rooms in the house. By engaging in this behavior, I believe we are dehumanizing ourselves in a manner of speaking in that we are abusing our technology (freedom). Technology can offer much assistance in our quest for various levels of power. However, we all too often let it turn us into mindless, “plugged-in” machines who are on auto pilot in our daily lives rather than being fully engaged.

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Piper said...

I agree that in some ways, technology has disconnected us from other humans (i.e. texting instead of person-to-person contact), but what about those friends and families that live halfway around the world? Without a cell phone, I wouldn’t have been able to contact my parents to tell them I safely arrived in Australia right as I landed, nor would I be able to keep in constant contact with my high school friend who moves every year. Yes, texts are impersonal, but calling someone or skyping is arguably the closest you can get to someone who is in a different continent, therefore further strengthening relationships. While overuse of phone and computers can definitely constrain our thoughts, one also has to think of how these technologies have improved our lives and perhaps even widened our thoughts. For example, although maps are great tools to help one explore new places, GPS’s in our cars and in apps provide continuous updated information and allow us to search restaurants, beaches, hotels, etc. that we didn’t even know existed while we are on the road, allowing us to spend that possible wasted time figuring out what to do, with the things we actually want to do in an easy and efficient manner.

// 01/20/2014 at 10:23 pm

Claire said...

I completely agree with Cassaundra in respect to certain technologies, such as cellphones and search engines, dehumanize many of our actions. While they may open up new lines of communication and new routes, as Piper mentioned, these devices take away the thought process and chain reaction that occurs when we think critically about problems in situations. I know I tend to lean towards using my GPS rather than taking the time to learn routes and think through my problems. I have noticed how this restricts my learning ability and causes a reliance on this technology. I think this goes back to how American society values time and completing tasks in a more efficient manner. The concept of efficiency is prevalent when we use Google to search for a restaurant or to look up a fact. We save time in not getting lost when we use our GPS. However these technologies take away the individuals ability to think critically about a problem and come up with a solution. I have witnessed situations, when the typical methods to find a solution fail, it leaves me stumped for other pathways. This reliance on technology could be harmful, especially if something were to happen where the technology was no longer available.

// 01/21/2014 at 9:19 pm

Sarah said...

I believe there could be a connection between this post and the post regarding self-esteem and social media. We could look at the link between this effect on our self-esteem and dehumanization. The fact that some teenagers today have formed a direct connection between Facebook likes and Twitter re-tweets and their self-worth goes to show that we are subconsciously linking our brain to computers and social media. Not only this but our perceptions of others is changing due to technology. In the USA Today article Study: Millennials find technology dehumanizing a University counselor states “Technology basically renders the person on the other side very flat, like a one or two dimensional character rather than a live three dimensional character.” We are starting to view people based on their Facebook photos and posts and Twitter updates and creating incomplete interpretations of others. So while technology words are being used more commonly to describe human attributes, we could also be dehumanizing our views of others and ourselves through social media.

// 01/22/2014 at 8:38 am