A relatively recent piece of technology that takes away from the intrinsic value of exploration is a GPS system. I started thinking about this during the first week of classes when we were asked to list technological items that we use on a regular basis. Over break, when I told my parents that I was going on a walk when I was in Chicago, they immediately insisted that I take the GPS. A little extreme, right?
Two months into my job over the summer I realized I was still very dependent on my GPS to get me to and from work. The one day I forgot the GPS I was late, but really believed it was worth it. I realized I passed a golf course, bowling alley, two (what turned out to be delicious) restaurants, without realizing it. I had not appreciated what Richmond had to offer until I was forced to slow down in a society that idolizes fast-paced lives. Yes, I understand the argument that restaurants and bowling alleys could not exist without this technology, but I do believe there is a stopping point, and that we’ve surpassed it this millennium. Unlike the U.S., many other countries offer a much more relaxed pace of living, which I have heard from many friends who have studied abroad in Europe. Is the tradeoff worth it? With amazing advances in medical technology, I’m sure we will continue to save more and more lives, but will the quality of our lives diminish even further?
I’m worried that as humans, we will become much less social and personable and more robotic. I don’t need to call someone when I’m lost because I have a GPS. I don’t need to call someone to see how they are doing because there are Facebook status options. My 4-year-old cousin in Detroit told me that we don’t need to see each other often because he can show me his toys and games on Skype, and that I can play the Wii with him online. I don’t remember what crunching leaves or trees swaying in the wind sounds like because I’m too busy listening to my Ipod when I go for a run outside. I was watching a “How I Met Your Mother” episode online, when a pop-up offered me to watch it in an online viewing room with strangers, just in case I felt alone.
I understand the argument that this technology allows the human race to become more productive. Economically, we are much more efficient, and thus the pie that we share is much larger. But, we don’t share that pie equally, so is that what is making the rich even richer, and poor even poorer in the U.S. and other countries? Are we reaching or surpassing a point at which our desire for technological advances is blinding us from much more pressing social needs?
According to utilitarianism, can these advances be justified as moral actions, since the time, money, and effort used towards such technology could be used instead for more pressing issues, like universal education? Would Kant agree that it is good will from which these actions stem-- that it is to make human life (or a select group of lives, rather) better or that it is merely an insatiable and selfish desire to explore the limitless field of technology?