Thursday, 31 July 2014

Only Connect – How to Bridge the Gap?

Edwardian novelist EM Forster
Mike Wright gazes at a connected future

My last blog expressed concern that undue reliance on technology could threaten to dilute our experience of the ever-present moment – threatening the only connection with reality we have.

I suggested that dystopian visions of future societies ruled by computers may not be too far from the present state of things, in so far as we allow social media to dictate our actions and opinions.

But of course, technology is also an inseparable feature of our everyday lives – while in reality the dystopian vision can never be realised, as the future can never be experienced. But equally we might want to start recognising that a Utopian alternative, of living harmoniously with technology, is something that is not awaiting round the corner but is possible now… perhaps only ever now.

The words of Edwardian novelist EM Forster seem apt – that we ‘only connect’. And it is completely possible to envisage a society in which technology aids us without disengaging us from experience and reality.

After all, technology has been responsible for connecting and reconnecting people in all manner of ways, all over the world. The Internet is probably the most obvious example of this, while Alexander Graham Bell decided to invent a rudimentary Skype system all those years ago! Just as importantly, technology is – and can be – routinely used to help people become connected in a manner that improves the quality of everyday experience. For example, a small, but sophisticated, device worn on the ear can pick up, process, amplify and transmit sound. Hearing aids make a world of difference in terms of the experience of hard of hearing people keen to have a share in the knowledge of the ever-humming gossip of the world.

Technology likewise offers people with disabilities the means of accessing lifestyle choices and opportunities to make the most of their abilities, thereby serving to lessen any sense of alienation or isolation that could arise through impairment. Prosthetics have helped to restore mobility to individuals who have lost, or simply never had certain limbs – and I have even heard of technology which hopes to be capable of restoring vision to those who have inherited blindness, or age-related macular degeneration, through the development of ‘bionic’ eyes.

It would seem that our sense of independence and personal freedom to be able to do things for ourselves – something which is perhaps often taken for granted in the normal human experience – can often provide us with a feeling of worth and value, making it easier to feel ourselves as part of a whole, not merely an isolated fragment.

Based on the examples I have mentioned, I would suggest that the aim has not necessarily been to reshape the world through technological means but to reassert the status quo and pay particular attention to the importance of our natural human experience.

In my Utopian view of a society – that’s to say, one that makes use of technology as a means of ensuring collective happiness  – I would suggest that perhaps an answer lies in viewing technology not in its darker aspect but positively… as a means of providing us with the personal freedom and self-awareness to realise that essentially, we are all connected, Forster-style, so that we may ‘live in fragments no longer’ and hopefully find ourselves exalted through such a relationship with one another.

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