Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Technology as Religion

An article on innovation in the magazine Wired speaks about technology. In a secular world, technology is the new religion by giving meaning to people’s lives. New devices like the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Internet websites like Google or Facebook, WebTV and other such advances in technology drive people into a frenzy. Especially the Apple products and the recent hoopla on tablets are driving a lot of attention. The trend today is mobility, social networking, openness and access to information (i.e. Wikileaks). Its like people have found a new religion and it’s driving them to a sort of spiritual ardor. The new meaning of life for people is not discovering some new religion or mantra but the latest gadget.

Perhaps the recent technological advancement encompasses social interaction and connections. For instance, Facebook or Foursquare used in mobile devices like smart phones or tablets. It becomes a liberating experience to be able to achieve this sociability anywhere. The effect is like magic – to see faraway relatives and friends (even in different continents), communicate with them and see their pictures, videos and comments. Religion provided some sort of magic in the past – a sort of supernatural ability to transcend every day problems via faith. Nowadays the spiritual mystery is gone – replaced by scandals such as pedophile priests or worldly monks and so on. The magic no longer reside in the spiritual realm.

Nowadays technology is transforming people lives – from the outsourcing trend that are lifting millions of people from poverty in poor countries, to the connective ness and empowerment that technology brings to people (i.e. investing in the stock market, donating to the needy, self-publishing, Silicon Valley billionaires,etc.). Hence technology is an enabling mechanism similar to religion where blind faith can help people accomplish amazing things (ex. non-violence movements that topple governments or change the status quo for the good). Technology can be used to make radical changes; for example, recent riots in Tunisia where people use mobile phones to overthrow the president, fax machines in the communist Poland to aid the Solidarity movement, Internet usage in China, Facebook in the Obama campaign and so on.

At the individual level, the latest technology has reached a state where it’s considered magic. Everyone now has either a smart phone or a tablet or a game machine or a laptop or a network PC all connected to the Internet. The gadget becomes a liberating experience especially with all those applications in the Internet like dating sites, porn sites, blogging (for self-expression), self publishing, gaming sites and so on engage the attention of people. It is an interactive media unlike watching television which is a passive and a mind numbing experience. In fact, technology has the ability to return people into a child like state – full of wonder which is what religion tries to do – to be born again and see the world with the eyes of a child. Everything becomes possible with this mindset.

But isn’t this trend another externally driven, materialistic effort where one tries to buy happiness with the latest gadget? Perhaps the gadget is a metaphor for a religious device like a rosary or a koan or mantra or the Bible or some meditative practice. The effort to master and learn the technology is like a spiritual journey wherein one achieves nirvana when the trial is complete. Mastering the technology enables you to achieve your dreams or goals – be it as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, stock investor, writer, seek romance or porn, be entertained or educated and so on. In this analogy, the latest gadget is a means to an end – not an end into itself. So the satisfaction in buying the latest gadget is not to have the gadget itself but use it as a tool to achieve better ends such as staying in contact with your family with Facebook or sharing family videos in YouTube. Perhaps satisfying one’s desire will eventually kill that desire and thereby achieve bliss.

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