Saturday, September 19, 2015

I am a Luddite ... and it is ok

I often blog here worrying about technological changes, even though I make use of various modern technological offerings.  Yet, at work--when it comes to teaching--I am one of those who even complain that most faculty continue to operate as if we are in some dark ages before the internet.  If you have paid attention to my posts, then you would have understood that I am not opposed to technology itself.  My worry is about how we are not pausing to take stock of how technology and our eager embrace of all things new is rapidly changing the understanding of what it means to be human.

Threading that proverbial needle is difficult.  Most people can't quite seem to understand why I would constantly harp on this issue.  I do that not because of the technology worries but because most people do not seem to consider what it is to be human and how the changes are affecting that understanding.

Today, I get more support for my position in this essay:
Humanity has had such a particular and privileged conception of itself for so long that altering it, as technology must inevitably do, will indeed change the very nature of who we are.
My point, right?

That essay provides a quote that I had no idea about; a quote from an old hero of mine, Leon Trotsky, (whom I ditched a long, long time ago:
To produce a new, “improved version” of man—that is the future task of Communism. Man must see himself as a raw material, or at best as a semi-manufactured product, and say: “At last, my dear homo sapiens, I will work on you.”
Humans as "raw material" is why I hate the modern usage of "Human Resources" in any corporate structure.  I way prefer the old usage of "Personnel."  We humans are not a resource, dammit.  (Though, I did like the way Julian Simon used it when he referred to humans as the Ultimate Resource.)
While contemporary Luddism fixates on the evils of technology, it’s not driven by the threat of technology supplanting or replacing humanity. Rather, Trotsky’s quote reminds us of the possibility that we will come to see ourselves as no different from machines. Technology doesn’t dehumanize us; it’s the knowledge behind it that does. Fighting the machine, then, is fighting a vision of the future in which the human is the machine.
Exactly.  This is what I, too, have been writing about for a long time.
Luddism is not nostalgia for the past.
Again, exactly what I write here and tell students too.  There was a lot more bad than good in the so-called good old days.
For the thinking Luddite, technology becomes a serious threat only to the extent that it threatens to collapse the boundary between human and machine. I think it very unlikely that this boundary will collapse in practice any time soon, despite the predictions of the transhumanists who cheer on the Singularity. These Luddite fears, however, are going to inform every step that we take toward “improving” the human.
 You see why I am all the more at ease in worrying about how technology is altering our understanding of what it means to be human, and how the pace of technological changes might not even give us enough time to process the changes?

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