Enlightened Times, or Dark Ages?


We’re living in times of unprecedented technological advancement … or at least we’ve been hearing that line for a decade or more now.

In a recent Time Magazine article entitled “The Boring Age,” the author, Michael Lind countered that notion by pointing out that “the gadgets of the information age have had nothing like the transformative effects on life and industry that indoor electric lighting, refrigerators, electric and natural gas ovens and indoor plumbing produced in the early to mid-20th century.”

“Is the combination of a phone, video screen and keyboard,” he asked, “really as revolutionary as the original telephone?”

For that matter, has modern technology really made being alive today an extraordinary experience? Are we really living in a thrilling epoch of transformation, like we all want to believe?

The truth is NO, not by a long shot.

Sure, some advancements we’re making in science and medicine will ultimately change the human experience in many ways, but revolutionary technology takes a lot longer to impact our lives than we think. Even the dramatic breakthroughs in nano and biotechnology looming on the horizon may not benefit humanity significantly for decades or even generations to come.

Most effects from the technology boom are actually less than earth-shattering. The fact that we can fit 40,000 songs onto a gadget the fits in the palm of your hand, might be cool, but it’s far from transformative. If Blu-ray, mobile broadband, debit cards and quilted toilet paper are considered the signs of a highly evolved civilization, then I’m afraid we’re way worse off than I thought.

My questions are, what has all of this so-called rapidly advancing technology really done to help us live more harmoniously with each other? What has it done to give us greater understanding of our purpose here on this earth? What has it done to make us kinder, more tolerant, wiser human beings?

The answer to that class of questions is a sobering “not much.” In fact, with modern gadget overload, we may even be achieving the exact opposite.

The established idea that greater access to information translates into greater awareness is simply not evident. Technology distracts our attention so much now, that many people seem to be only mildly in contact with the real world around them half the time. Being able to engage someone in a good old “face to face conversation” for more than even a minute without some gadget taking over their attention is rare.

It seems to me that this information age and all its gadgetry is not helping to expand our consciousness at all, but causing it to contract even further. We may be “smarter” in terms of information, but we’re fast losing one of the most cherished of all human characteristics – our ability to commune with each other. It’s a bad sign already when parents can’t even compete with cell phones and Facebook for their children’s attention.

In the future, true volumetric holographic 3D display might be really cool, and automated smart cars and bio-robotic appendages valuable. But we need to wake up to the fact that, although technological advancements may alter our living experience, they don’t necessarily make our lives more worthy of being lived.

We may well be in the midst of a tragic devolutionary period of humanity … tragic because all the while we are all thinking that just the opposite is happening – that we are actually progressing. At the current trajectory, I’m afraid that one day we’ll be a species best characterized by the old saying, “the lights are on, but nobody is home.”

Yogacharya is Director of International Yogalayam and Editor of “The Yoga News

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1 Comment so far

  1. Jason Gan on April 4th, 2010

    In the technocratic society, we are cultured to think that we must develop some new technology that would revolutionise everything and change the world. In fact, that is why my brother has spent most of his youth working on his PhD.

    But technology won’t change people.
    Criminals will still be criminals. Labourers will still be labourers. Politicians will still be politicians. Lawyers will still be lawyers.

    The only meaningful change that you can effect is yourself. Change has to begin first with the self, then through your actions – thoughts, kindness, generosity – they may one day affect others. When we are on the street somewhere, and smile at strangers, they are likely to smile back. It is a defensive smile response and exchange of supraconscious energy, but forms the basis of change.