Thursday, October 16, 2008

Technology vs Human Nature

As we discussed in class, technology is defined as the discourse surrounding techniques. However, the dictionary defines technology as “a technological process, invention, method, or the like.” This second definition, especially the term invention, applies to the way most people think of technology and the ways in which it has been interacting with human nature throughout history. In order to form a relationship between technology and human nature, we first need to know what exactly human nature is. It is defined in the dictionary as “the psychological and social qualities that characterize humankind.” Since technology is considered to be new inventions, and human nature is considered to be social characteristics, we can determine the relationship between the two. Does one affect the other? It would seem that human nature is affected by technology, because new inventions tend to have an impact on society and people’s lives, but it also seems that technology is affected by human nature, because without society’s changing attributes, there would be no need for new inventions. Therefore, it is safe to say that the relationship between technology and human nature is a never-ending cycle of each being influenced by the other, which is present in real life and in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

This cycle has to start somewhere, but much like the question of the chicken or the egg, it is difficult to say which came first. However, we do know the causes of some instances in which technology encouraged human nature. For example, the invention of vehicles, horse-drawn and motor-powered, changed life for almost everyone in the nations that adopted such vehicles. Soon people were able to travel or move to other cities and meet new people easily without tiring themselves by walking for miles. Also, vehicles provided extra opportunity for people to open shops and businesses, with new customers every day while passing through town or driving into town, and those new customers could find work in the new area. Another instance of technology manipulating human nature is with the invention of the television. When the television was introduced to society, children began to stay indoors more than they had prior to the invention and adults tended to shy away from spending time with their neighbors. Families watched their favorite shows together and bonded with each other, but stopped being as active as they had been before. Over time since the television was first mass-produced, the rate of obesity in the United States has risen significantly due to a lack of physical activity, and that led to an increase in other health issues, such as heart problems. Also, since this invention, people have not been as close with their neighbors. Before the television, people were friendly and spent time with everyone they knew, but after the television, people stayed indoors more often and did not get to know their neighbors like they had once before. This caused towns and neighborhoods to be much less lively and attractive to visitors and potential residents. Although these inventions have affected the way people live, it is not the only cause and effect relationship between technology and human nature.

As I have already stated, human nature can determine what types of new technologies are created. For example, when people from other towns or areas needed to relay messages to one another, such as in the military or government, it was slow and inconvenient to deliver these messages on foot. They needed a faster way to communicate, so the Pony Express was invented. Horses are not only quicker than people, but they can carry heavier loads, making it possible to relay many messages at a time. Eventually, with budding technology, people found an even more convenient way to communicate. The telephone had been invented and it was possible for anyone to communicate directly with whomever they pleased, and waiting for a response was no longer an issue. Many decades afterward, when people began to travel more often and jobs sometimes required long distance business trips, the cell phone had been invented to accommodate everyone regardless of where they were. Also, another need for communication in the military between countries, before the invention of the cell phone, the internet was invented. It was used for underground operations and secret information, and made communication from country to country a lot less complicated. Because of its success with the military, the internet was released to the international public for private use and quickly became very popular, especially with the younger generations. After a short while, social networking sites were invented for people to keep in touch with friends and family and to meet new people from various cities all around the world. These technologies were greatly affected by society’s needs.

It does not stop there, however. The cycles continue. The impact on society because of one technology leads to another technology, and the technologies created because of human nature only lead to more social characteristics. For example, when people started going away after the vehicle was invented, the airplane was invented so that people could travel even farther. Because television urged children to stay indoors, video games were invented to give the children something to do other than watch television while they were inside. The invention of the telephone and cell phone has established a problem with laziness. Instead of walking next door to speak with a neighbor, people usually would rather call or send a text message. Worst of all, however, is the impact that the internet has had on the youth. Since the social networking sites have become popular, there have been many cases of children meeting and being abducted by internet predators. It is indeed a never-ending cycle of cause and effect between technology and human nature.

The same cycle is present in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Prior to the beginning of the story, World War Terminus had destroyed most life on Earth, leaving everything dark and dusty. Not many people or animals had survived the war, and the lack of life on the planet left many of the people who did survive lonely. Therefore, false animals had been invented to keep people company and to raise their self esteem, because owning animals was an important aspect of life. Also, on Mars at the time, laziness led to the invention of the androids, which were owned as slaves. When the androids fled to Earth, new jobs became available. People were needed to retire the androids, and people were also needed to produce the androids. Aside from the androids, the false animals also needed workers. Jobs became available for building the animals, and then people were needed to act as veterinarians to the false animals, dressing in medical uniforms and driving medical vehicles to fool onlookers. Another technology in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the mood organ. People used it to choose their mindset for the day instead of relying on real emotions. However, the mood organ was a cause of confusion in human nature because it made it more difficult to know whether the people were actually people or if they were androids. The book clearly demonstrates the same cause and effect relationship between technology and human nature as is evident in real life.

Human nature, which was defined as social characteristics do affect technology, which was defined, simply, as inventions, and these inventions also affect the social characteristics. This cycle has been continuing throughout all of history, and will continue to persevere for the rest of time. As long as people have new needs, people will continue to produce whatever will satisfy those needs, and that product will continue to change the way people live.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Starting out with dictionary definitions can be either enlightening or dangerous. There's always the danger of trivializing your subject matter - but although I had my initial doubts, I think this opening is effective both at giving you focus and at acknowledging the complexity of the subject matter.

Your discussion of wheels and television isn't exactly wrong, but it's kind of shallow. There's no research here, even though you're making the sort of claims that could be greatly bolstered by research. I think your approach is reasonable, but if this material is important it needed research; if it's not very important, you could have been much more concise. The same criticism applies, in spades, to your discussion of the internet and the Pony Express - you make various mistakes and overgeneralizations here because of your lack of research, and I'm not sure what you're really trying to do with any of it, since you never move beyond the level of generalizations.

Here's a throwaway line that could have been far more effective: "Because television urged children to stay indoors, video games were invented to give the children something to do other than watch television while they were inside." When you say something like that, you need to ask yourself whether it's *true* or not. If it is, and you can make an argument to that effect, then great - you have a topic/example. If not, then you have a disaster. You can't just say lots of things about lots of subjects with no evidence and expect it to work, though.

Your discussion of DODES is good, but abbreviated. Like in the rest of the paper, you rely on easy generalizations here instead of digging into the text.

Overall: Your introduction is actually pretty good, and your closing material on DADES reads like the outline of an effective argument, if not the actual argument itself. The material in between, though, is nothing but one mushy generalization after another. Yes, there is potential here, but there is none of the detailed analysis, let alone research, which could have made this material work.