The more humans have sought freedom, the more they have been ensnared by society and its institutions. These sentiments were first expressed by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. However, with the advent of technological innovations, many have echoed the sentiment that “technology has ruined us.” A particularly striking revelation came from the Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, who in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” predicted that in ten years, corporations would know better what an individual wants.

The issue extends beyond human desires and aspirations to the very essence of humanity: the purpose of life and an individual’s mission. Historically, even before modern technology, individuals did not have full control over their destinies. Religion, a powerful force, often dictated the reasons for one’s existence, duties in life, and destiny. Critics argue that, despite this control, there was still space for heretical ideas to flourish and form new sects, such as the Veer Shaiva sect, which led to the Lingayat sect.

What has changed in the last 30 years? All agree that the past three decades have seen rapid transformations. Today, people can discuss the next day’s menu with their daughters from any country, communicate with employees globally via Zoom or Google Talk, and enjoy conveniences like ordering meals or booking tickets from home. This new reality blurs the line between what is real and virtual, creating a “plastic world” where personal connections and emotional sharing have diminished. People lack shoulders to cry on.

These developments have not sparked a revolution in terms of redistributing power, privilege, and prestige. Instead, power and resources have become more concentrated. Prestige remains subjective and cannot be enforced. Some attempt to control even this.

So, what has changed? Technology. It has transformed every aspect of life, particularly in the field of information. The world has indeed become a global village, where instant communication and online activities, such as board meetings, exams, and recruitment tests, are now commonplace.

One significant innovation is the miniaturization of chips and gadgets through nanotechnology. This progress has been so rapid that people have barely noticed its pace.

The process of self-discovery is now in the hands of others. It sounds strange but true. Today, every aspect of life—lifestyle, travel, leisure, music—is designed not by individuals but by the market. Career options are predetermined, and prestigious institutions like Ivy League schools dictate choices. Parenting styles are pre-programmed. Creativity in robotics comes from their creators, not the robots themselves. Advertisements on platforms like YouTube and television dictate preferences, branding dissenters as idiots.

Adolescents and young people, who once expressed love over a cup of tea at a local dhaba, now follow pre-scripted rituals like bending on one knee with a bouquet on Valentine’s Day. Career paths are also preplanned, with parents imposing their dreams on children, a practice that has always existed.

Rebels have always existed, as exemplified by the witty Charlie Chaplin in his 1936 film “Modern Times,” which critiqued technology. He conveyed that technology should serve humans, not enslave them. Today, people mistakenly believe they are independent, but they rely on their routines and technology.

Michel Foucault described post-modern society as regimented, akin to a prison or asylum, with people under constant surveillance and programmed to think in a prescribed manner. Despite living in democratic societies, people face undemocratic rulers. Historically, rebels were respected and seen as societal guides. In contrast, today’s exceptional individuals are often labeled as mad or derailed and are abused rather than adored. The technological society is not a liberating one.

In conclusion, while technology has advanced remarkably, it has both positive and negative consequences. Technology is the cornerstone of human superiority, enabling progress from the savage age to the hypersonic age. However, when controlled by those who lack humanism, it can be highly destructive. As De Tocqueville noted, the current system may have many merits, but it lacks humanism. Modern technology is immensely powerful and can be both constructive and destructive. Riding the technological tiger is bold, but we must ensure it does not devour us.

Anonymous Changed status to publish June 16, 2024