Technology can be a wonderful thing. We think of all the marvels in space exploration, manufacturing (particularly nano-mechanics), medicine, data storage and a host of all kinds of advancements which reflect the human impulse to expand knowledge. I love my Macbook. It gives me access to libraries, museums, literature, music and countless other ways of editing my life in ways I could only dream in my youth. I’m grateful to technology for the myriad of things it affords me.
My problem is not with technological advancement, but with the irresponsible commercialisation of it; i. e., the easy accessibility of it to people who don’t understand the consequences of its imprudent use. Now, this is not a new phenomenon, every generation has this problem. A new technology is developed and sooner or later (usually sooner) greed takes over and some corporation finds whatever way it can to mass market this new and wondrous technology to a general public of which a substantial portion are intellectually and culturally preliterate. Granted this has been the case throughout history. However, prior to the twentieth century, new technologies were much more slowly absorbed into the society. In a sense, there was a learning curve; the one exception being the easy accessibility of firearms, particularly in the United States, where virtually anybody and everybody can get their hands on guns: and, well, we’ve seen the results of that.
Notwithstanding, as advances in technology increased, their speed of entry into the general society correspondingly accelerated. Up to this point in recent history the general public almost managed to keep apace with the newest technologies released. That was largely do, in part, to an extensive and well funded (generally) public school system. During the post-war period up through the 60’s US society was gradually becoming more and more technologically sophisticated. Conversely, thanks to the anti-government movement, during the past three decades public education has continued to decline, particularly in poor urban and rural areas, where the decline has been precipitous. Meanwhile, technology zooms along at a more an more accelerated pace.
Couple this with the manifest deterioration of cultural norms of etiquette and civilised behaviour (the result of a general decline in parenting skills, for which, of course, everyone else is to blame, we are now plagued with more than one generation of loud, obnoxious, ignorant and gratuitously selfish neanderthals blathering on their cellphones or listening to the cacophonies of pop culture in public. It’s not that these “people” (for lack of a better term) weren’t already ill-mannered and boorish, it’s just that these technologies have made it easier for them to be so. Corporate investment in dumbing down these technological devices has been so extensive I’m sometimes amazed to see that people who can’t even articulate a simple sentence or write their names, much less know the basics of polite behaviour, are able to master the fundamentals of most mobile devices. And it’s only going to get worse. To paraphrase Bette Davis: “Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy tomorrow.”