In America at least, we are still in the ‘new toy’ phase of high technology. Every new gadget that comes out receives oohs and aahs in the media, with the subtext, ‘aren’t we the most amazing people for inventing all these wonderful things!’
Multi-tasking can be defined as making a virtue out of doing three or four things at the same time without paying attention to any of them. The very machines that are supposed to free people from slavery to busyness are driving them to mindlessness. We need a basic reorientation in the relationship to our machines.
For any mature adult, high technology is, by itself, quite boring. Disconnected from the deeper aspects of life, technology for technology’s sake is like talking just to talk—an empty enterprise. The interesting question has to do with how we integrate the emerging technologies into our lives.
Underlying that issue is the age-old question of what it means to be a human being. Ironically, as technology sweeps everything before it, its rampant development is pushing essential questions to the fore, driving ordinary thinking and feeling people to explore questions that were once only the realm of philosophers.
In the hopefully not-so-distant future, when people have dropped the ‘gee-whiz’ attitude toward new technologies, there will be a seamless integration with machines in our daily lives. Can that be achieved without losing the distinction between technology and life, and allowing the domination of our lives by machines?
Incredibly fast, powerful, and small computers should free people from the illusory importance of busyness, and the illusory competence of multi-tasking. Rather than spur an increasing frenzy of activity, as they are now doing, machines could assist in the rightful balance between activity and inactivity, and allow time for being and non-action, which are always first.
Of course that means deeply reexamining time, at once the most valuable thing we have, and the greatest impediment to our realization as human beings.
Busyness is no substitute for being; indeed, the perpetually busy are wasting their lives. To a large extent, the more one does, the less one lives, and is. But why are so many people, who have the time, space, and leisure to put what is first first, refusing to do so?
Psychological time prevents us from meeting things fully. I’ve never lived by the notion, “every day a tiny bit. It’s slow process….” We grow unseen, through negation most of all, but never through time.
Employing time—the whole idea of gradualness—is procrastination and decay. I’m not entirely liberated from time, but I’m sure that one never changes gradually. Evolution doesn’t even work that way, through gradual change, though the word has come to mean exactly that—a slow process, bit by bit, gradually in time. That means never.
Of course, the intelligent use of time does not, in itself, awaken the timeless, and with it wholeness, peace and understanding. After all, many monks have wasted their lives following rituals and pursuing methods of meditation. For timelessness to come into being in one’s being, one has to take the time to learn how to observe and question within oneself, and do the spadework of self-knowing on a daily basis.
Hopefully, the childish fascination and fetish with high-tech toys is just a phase of human development. With a new relationship to machines, the development of the human being could be served, rather than diminished by them.
There can be a harmonious integration with our machines, which certainly doesn’t mean becoming cyborgs or unduly dependent on them. Such integration would allow time for the truly important things, like being in nature, spending time with one’s children, family, and friends, inquiring with others, and solitarily exploring the infinite universe within.
Science is based on the testable premise that everything in nature is explainable in terms of physical mechanisms made of purely material substance. But even if that principle holds true, as it no doubt will, for every phenomenon that humans encounter in the universe, it does not mean we will ever come to understand everything. There is no bottom to the cosmos, just an infinite regress of mysteries waiting for science to discover and comprehend.
There has always been a symbiosis between science and technology, but now these two driving forces of the human prospect are nearly synonymous. A third force has become interwoven with them–the market.
Technology, which is increasingly linked to and derived from science and the market, neither uncovers mysteries, nor evokes feelings of mystery. Technology is application, and it is only as beneficial to human life as we are intelligent in using and integrating it into lives lived beyond its domain.