What is being human?

I read this article today by James Haugland who was the the “Company Philosopher” for a production of the The Adding Machine. I think it’s interesting that he shares some of my concerns about how people can be diminished by doing everything remotely and via technology.

“Today, technology is everywhere. From microwaves, to cell phones, to your car’s dash board- technological innovations have permeated virtually every aspect of our lives. But where does this path that society has chosen lead? More than eighty years ago, Elmer Rice offered an answer to this question. He predicted the “super-hyper adding machine”, a creation so advanced that it would function with almost no human intervention. Like the latest techno-toys of today, it would attempt to make our lives easier and more efficient. In reality though, inventions such as these only serve to distort and deform the act of living. Take your desktop computer, for example. You can check the weather, pay your taxes, chat with old friends, and basically interact with the world all from the lonely isolation of your empty little room. Like Rice’s “super-machine”, these tools that pretend to broaden our scope only diminish our humanity. They seek to bring the world to us but in effect, they only push the real world of human interaction and understanding even further away.
As theater artists, it is our responsibility to explore human nature; to ask- “what does it mean to be human?” Perhaps society should pause a moment and consider — we cannot create tools to enhance humanity if we do not understand what it means to be human. We insist on racing along toward some undefined destination of bigger, faster, better. Why? To what end? How can we travel so zealously in one direction if we don’t even know where we are now? Technology has unimaginable potential and ultimately, it is the only thing that can ‘save’ humankind from the natural cycles of the universe. But we must be cautious. We must insist that technological development remains consistent with our individual values and our collective goals. Rice’s observations were relevant in the 1920s but they are of paramount importance at the dawn of the 21st century.

About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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