What does convenience cost us in the long run?
As long as there are people, there will be questions about the human condition. How are people doing? What are their greatest struggles and fears and joys? And what does it mean to be a real human being1 at any point in time?
Odds are good I won’t make it out of the 21st century alive. So considering what it means to be human in the 21st century seems a good place to put my energy for the next version of my blog.
In so many ways, life has never been better for those of us in the first world. We’ve spent most of our lives in unprecedented safety and convenience, thanks at least in part to technology. But, strange as it may sound, might that same convenience bring about our greatest challenges? The world is at our fingertips thanks to smart phones and other mobile devices. But having these remedies to boredom always at arm’s length makes it hard to be present in the real world beyond the screens. We must also fight the temptation to live always in a digital world when tech titans are always telling us what a great option it is. And don’t forget that these same titans have engineered their products and services to be addictive to keep us coming back. As they keep us addicted, they’re harvesting our data and doing who knows what with it. We now know they’re using that same data to train AI with the hope of replacing us. Many businesses will adopt these AI ‘solutions’ haphazardly, putting humans at risk in the name of efficiency.
I grew up enamored with technology, believing it could make life better. I still believe it can, with some caveats. Inserting technology into a process or situation doesn’t guarantee success. And it’s hard to do the right way. Drumming up hype and excitement is easy, but those same elements make it hard to know if the technology is actually useful, or useful to the extent promised.
We’ve reached a point where we need to put this convenience into perspective. Has it really been all that great? Has it served us as users? Even if everything was great in the past, that doesn’t mean we have to go along for the ride in the future. Maybe some people feel the past cost of convenience was fine, but they’re not so sure about the costs of what’s ahead. Or, maybe we don’t have a choice. Maybe certain things are set in motion, meaning the future is already determined and there’s nothing we can do about it. To be clear, I don’t hold this view, but if you do, I hope you’ll agree we should consider what lies ahead as we can best prepare ourselves.
I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball that shows the future. While I ponder our future, I’m no futurist. I prefer to discuss how things can go rather than how they will go. So while I don’t have predictions of the future, I do have concerns and hopes. I’m concerned that certain advances in technology seek to make humans irrelevant2. But I hope we can find our way to maintain–and improve–our humanity.
What does it mean to be human in the 21st century? What are our best parts that should be amplified? And which parts should be improved upon? These are fair questions, and there are so many similar questions deserving consideration. So I hope you’ll join me as I do my best to do them justice.