In America at least, we are still in the ‘new toy’ phase of high technology. Every gadget and ‘breakthrough’ 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 us to frenzied mindlessness. We need a basic reorientation in our attitude toward 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 an empty enterprise. The question is: How do we intelligently integrate the emerging technologies, including and especially AI, into our lives?
Underlying this question is the age-old question of what it means to be a human being. As technology sweeps everything and everyone before it, its exponential development is pushing this question to the fore, driving ordinary thinking and feeling people to explore questions that were once only the purview of philosophers.
In the hopefully not-so-distant future, when people have dropped the ‘gee-whiz’ attitude toward new technologies, there could be a seamless integration with machines in our daily lives. That doesn’t mean becoming cyborgs, with tiny integrated circuits implanted in our brains and bodies. Seamlessness can be achieved without losing the distinction between technology and life, as is happening at present.
Incredibly fast, powerful, and small computers could 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 deepening the human being in inaction, which is 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. The more the activity, the less one grows as a human being. So why are so many people, who have the time, space and leisure to put what is first first, refusing to do so?
The answer appears to be toxic combination of cultural breakdown, social pressure, self-centered activity, and not seeing any other way to live.
The intelligent use of time does not, in itself, awaken wholeness, timelessness, 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 continually question within oneself, learn how to observe without the observer, and do one’s spadework on a daily basis.
Hopefully, the childish fascination and fetish with high technology is just a passing phase of human development. With a new understanding of what it means to be a human being, technological development would serve the advancement of humanity, rather than destroying the Earth and our spiritual potential.
There can be integration with machines, which certainly doesn’t mean becoming unduly dependent on them. Such integration would allow time for the truly important things, like being in nature, spending time in inquiry with friends, and exploring the infinite within, which entails being alone without being isolated.
Science is based on the testable premise that everything in nature is explainable in terms of physical mechanisms made of material substance. But even if that principle holds true for most phenomena 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 with a third force interwoven with them–the market.
Technology, which is now inextricably linked to science and the market, neither uncovers mysteries, nor evokes feeling 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.