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A necessary evil

Finally, I have changed my relationship with technology

Some time ago, I would often feel low, anxious. I would have only a slight interest in the outside world. With a little introspection, I realised that I was paying too little attention to my family, friends and colleagues. Why? I couldn’t figure it out. Some more self-examination revealed I was also thinking negatively and behaving pessimistically. Little more reflection led me to understand that I was indulging too much in my smartphone, television and laptop.

So, I deleted many social media apps, quit many messaging groups and moderated my television viewing and laptop surfing. I also moved my e-mails from my phone to the laptop. In a nutshell, I did cleanse myself of overindulgence in technology. I also experienced calmness, control over my thinking and emotions and composure. I felt a sense of ease in my relationship with myself and the outside world. Consequently, I saved a lot of time for things closer to my heart and meaningful for my life. Finally, I decided to take up the cudgels against technology.

My first point against technology is that it lures me to multitasking. I feel I can watch television and keep messaging and e-mailing on the phone simultaneously and save time. But it’s a myth. Actually, there is nothing called multitasking. When you shift from one task to another, you stop doing the first task. And when you come back to the first, research says that you take 20 minutes to be mentally ready for it. Thus, switching between two different tasks consumes more time than finishing two separately.

Technology also makes me feel like a nomad. When I am looking for a story on the Internet, I wander away to something else. I don’t even realise that. After some time, when I realise my drift, it’s too late. And by then, I have lost my time and energy and especially interest in the original story I was looking for. Resultantly, I lose focus and direction.

Junk information

With its power of fast dissemination, technology has helped create an economic model of the news and information industry in which most of the news and information is available free. Free news and information attract me to welcome even junk news and information regardless of its quality, authenticity and need. After going through a deluge of substandard, unverified and undesirable news and information, I don’t feel wiser. Free news robs my most precious treasure — my attention. But why is my attention and focus so important? Because I lose the direction of my internal narrative and miss the story that I want to tell myself. My story is the source of my relationships with the outside world. Unfortunately, I do not even realise that my story has changed or it is changing slowly.

My other sore point against technology is that it hacks my neutrality and objectivity. It feeds me with a lot of information which I cannot verify with my limited resources. It prompts me to believe whatever I am fed with. I lose my power of reasoning and the strength of logic. I am not able to develop a perspective of what I see, read and hear. I squander my impartiality and fairness. Finally, I lose my voice, my inner voice.

When I read a book, I need to flip a page to move to a new page. In fact, it’s a cue to pause. Similarly, a chapter in a book and the end of an episode of a TV series are the stopping signals. These signals give me a moment to reassess if I should continue or take a break. But now technology is designing social media apps that cancel out any stopping cue. It just wants me to move from one video to another, unthinkingly. I am afraid I would become its slave.

Technology has also changed the human interface from services like guest hosting and taxi hiring. Now, there is very little cordial human interaction and experience left in such services. I don’t get a chance to interact with my cab driver and develop a relationship. At most, I talk to an anonymous person sitting thousands of miles away in a huge call centre. It lowers the quality of human understanding, changes the essence of the personal human transaction and finally kills the relationship.

Many unknowns

And my last but the most worrisome point against technology is that it unravels not just the known but many unknowns too. When technology wasn’t there to be accused of stealing privacy, even then, as a stone-age man, I closely protected my privacy. But in the past few decades, technology has silently unclothed my privacy. I am uncomfortably satisfied with technology till the time I know what, when and how much of my private space it is intruding into. So far it was about my known. But with interventions like Artificial Intelligence (AI), technology now peeps into my unknown, which even I am not aware of — my pulse rate, my blood pressure, my expressions, my mood, and my sweat. I am scared that AI has the potential to read my feelings, potential thinking style, and actions. But why should I be worried if AI can read my mood, facial expressions, thinking and actions? Simply because then it would judge me as a person. Consequently, I would lose my self-worth. Maybe in this process, I would become a subject or slave to the hidden agenda of some corporation or state. And finally, I would lose my freedom, both physical and emotional.

However, can I discard technology for its ill offerings and subjugating dominance over me? The truth is that technology has become such an integral part of my life that a complete alienation from technology seems impossible. Therefore, my dilemma is that on the one hand, I can’t overindulge in technology at the cost of my peace, happiness, and freedom and on the other, I can’t become its slave. I feel I need to go back to Aristotle’s golden mean where I find the right balance between overexposure of technology which kills my freedom and its ascetic separation which robs my comfort.

(The writer is a senior law enforcement officer and an expert in wellbeing)

tj@alumni.upenn.edu

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 2:12:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-necessary-evil/article32820087.ece

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