Is Technology Robbing Us of Humanity?
This columnist certainly has his detractors.
Some disagree with the viewpoint. Others dissent when they â€œreadâ€ things that were not written, thereby drawing incorrect conclusions. Still others criticize the column for being â€œtoo negative.â€
To the first point, the goal is to attempt to change hearts and minds through fact-based, common-sense arguments, but there will always be those opposed. Câ€™est la vie. To the second, what can you say about people who only read half a column before unloading with both barrels, or prefer to inject their own words rather than read what is there? Ignorance may be bliss, but itâ€™s not becoming. Lastly, stating facts objectively, no matter how hard they are to hear, isnâ€™t negative. Thatâ€™s the beauty of the truth; it isnâ€™t positive or negative. It is what it is.
But it should be noted that on every one of over a thousand columns, this author, no matter how fiercely he criticized someone or something, ALWAYS offered a solution. From health care to immigration, race relations to advocating steroid use in professional sports, solutions have always been presented.
Truth is, the biggest threat facing America, and all of humanity, seems to have no viable remedy. Thatâ€™s not to say there arenâ€™t solutions. There are, but theyâ€™ll never be employed.
And what is this gravest of threats? Terrorism? Nuclear war? Pandemic?
Itâ€™s the skyrocketing addiction to technology at the expense of human empathy.
Nowhere was that more on display than the video showing teenagers laughing at a handicapped man drowning in a Florida pond, a video that the teenagers themselves shot. Jamel Dunn was begging for nearby people to help as he struggled to keep his head above water. But rather than flagging down assistance, calling 911, or, imagine this, helping the man, the boys found it much more entertaining to taunt the victim, shout obscenities, and joke about how he was going to drown. They even mocked him after he finally slipped beneath the surface, with one sneering, â€œOh, he just died.â€
Many comfort themselves by naively believing that this was just an isolated event, and that such occurrences, while tragic, are rare.
One problem: itâ€™s not true. In fact, such behavior is becoming the norm at an exponential pace. And given that the generation that has been raised on technology from childbirth is coming of age, there is nothing that can stop this race toward human oblivion.
1) Many are outraged that the teenagers wonâ€™t be charged with a serious crime, since, in Florida, rendering aid isnâ€™t legally required. (Authorities finally found an obscure misdemeanor â€" failure to report a death â€" with which to charge them).
But whether or not they were charged isnâ€™t the point. The infinitely more important question is how weâ€™ve gone so far off track that our teenagers, indeed our children, didnâ€™t just stand by and watch someone die without lifting a finger, but took pleasure in it. They had enough self-awareness to video a manâ€™s death and laugh about it, but possessed none of the once-natural human inclination to help a person in need. This wasnâ€™t a â€œsurvival of the fittest, itâ€™s him or meâ€ situation, but sadism taken to a whole new level, where remorse and moral conscience never entered their minds.
To the teenagers, the manâ€™s demise was surely on par with video game â€œdeathsâ€ and TV â€œcasualties.â€ And that is the crux of the issue. The unbreakable addiction to smartphones, video games, reality TV, and a skyrocketing amount of â€œcontentâ€ on-demand â€" which society not just accepts but encourages â€" has led to a huge chuink of an entire generation becoming grossly warped, unable to tell the difference between true reality and virtual reality. To them, itâ€™s one and the same: A person drowning right in front of them has the same â€œeffectâ€ on their conscience as a character dying in â€œClash of Clans.â€ In other words, no effect at all.
In the world where human beings exist, there is, or at least used to be, a value called empathy. Itâ€™s when people in civilized societies attempt to understand what someone else is feeling, and be sensitive to their experiences â€" a form of altruism rooted in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you.
So if you were drowning, you would hope a passerby had empathy for your plight, and would do everything possible to help.
But our empathy is quickly waning, and with it, our humanity â€" the very essence of who and what we are â€" replaced by acute indifference.
2) Lack of empathy is increasingly commonplace. Sure, we know about the widely publicized stories: The Penn State student who needlessly died at a party because not a single person had the courage â€" or motivation â€" to call 911; the California girl who live-streamed herself driving and crashing, and who continued to stream, instead of calling 911 and rendering aid, while her 14-year-old sister lay dying next to her; the adult daughter who live-streamed her father being shot by police, rather than trying to help him, or, at the very least, say a last goodbye.
But they arenâ€™t isolated cases. Similar situations are occurring every day that, while not headline-inducing, are equally troubling, where the desire to post dramatic or perverted video on social media (or to do nothing at all) supersedes any inclination to help someone in distress: A woman falls, and many just stand around and stare. A few may call 911, but often leave, failing to lend a hand since â€œitâ€™s not my concern; I did my part;â€ a car accident occurs, but instead of checking to see if the occupants are OK, or helping them out if the car is about to catch fire (if they stop at all), many are far more concerned about getting it on video â€" from a safe vantage point while sipping a latte â€" rather than possibly saving a life. Even a mother trying to get a baby stroller up the stairs when the elevator is broken is often ignored.
Helping others used to be the norm. But now, people are celebrated for assisting others because of how rare that act has become.
3) In large part, person-to-person interaction has become â€œpassÃ©,â€ because we no longer know how to communicate. Ask a Millennial to call a pizza shop? Good luck. Most canâ€™t, as theyâ€™re wholly incapable of engaging with anything other than their damn device. Walk into a coffee house and almost no one is talking, even those on dates. Instead, all eyes are downward, consumed with all-things-smartphone. Tell an employee to make an in-person presentation (aka talking to other human beings), with slides written in proper English, and without a computer to hide behind, and itâ€™s sheer panic.
Make no mistake: Todayâ€™s technology has incredible uses that just a decade ago were unthinkable. But the negatives have come to significantly outweigh the advancements because we have become lazy, relying far more on technology than our brains â€" and each other. And itâ€™s only getting worse, as millions of mothers and fathers instantly throw a device in front of their children as soon as theyâ€™re born, ostensibly because they donâ€™t feel like parenting.
Thatâ€™s not â€œeducationalâ€ â€" itâ€™s appalling.
If you donâ€™t want to parent, then donâ€™t have kids. But itâ€™s extremely unfair to children when their parents arenâ€™t willing to put the time in to teach and interact with them â€" which, by the way, are the most fundamental things parents should be doing. Sure, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has its place, but it should never become a substitute for parenting. Yet thatâ€™s exactly what has happened.
Enter the hopelessness.
We can talk about breaking our childrenâ€™s dependence on technology so that they can learn the paramount importance of empathy. But since parents are just as addicted, willfully allowing Netflix and Instagram to usurp parenting and non-tech family time, the race toward human depravity and an all-about-me society will only accelerate.
They say that sometimes life imitates art. If thatâ€™s true, then thereâ€™s no doubt what movie we are living.
â€œTerminator: Rise of the Machines.â€
Anyone remember how that worked out for humanity?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]