A View from David Byrne
I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has had an unspoken overarching agenda—it has been about facilitating the need for LESS human interaction. It’s not a bug—it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about selling us books we couldn’t find locally—and it was and what a brilliant idea—but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human interaction. I see a pattern emerging in the innovative technology that has gotten the most attention, gets the bucks and often, no surprise, ends up getting developed and implemented. What much of this technology seems to have in common is that it removes the need to deal with humans directly. The tech doesn’t claim or acknowledge this as its primary goal, but it seems to often be the consequence. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal. There are so many ways imagination can be manifested in the technical sphere. Many are wonderful and seem like social goods, but allow me a little conspiracy mongering here—an awful lot of them have the consequence of lessening human interaction.
I suspect that we almost don’t notice this pattern because it’s hard to imagine what an alternative focus of tech development might be. Most of the news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots and self driving cars, all of which fit this pattern, though there are indeed many technological innovations underway that have nothing to do with eliminating human interaction from our lives. CRISPR-cas9 in genetics, new films that can efficiently and cheaply cool houses and quantum computing to name a few, but what we read about most and what touches us daily is the trajectory towards less human involvement.
Note: I don’t consider chat rooms and product reviews as “human interaction”; they’re mediated and filtered by a screen.
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each other.
Social networks are also a source of unhappiness. A study earlier this year by two social scientists, Holly Shakya at UC San Diego and Nicholas Christakis at Yale, showed that the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel about their lives. While these technologies claim to connect us, then, the surely unintended effect is that they also drive us apart and make us sad and envious.
David Byrne is a musician and artist who lives in New York City. His most recent book is called How Music Works. A version of this piece originally appeared on his website, davidbyrne.com.
A MUST READ: Eliminating the Human – MIT Technology Review
I do not spend hours on Twitter or Facebook like I used to. Teaching about social media and blogging, I’m not doing that anymore. In my own research/work at the moment… I can tell you that some of the greatest minds in the world are sharing generously with us… on blogs… on twitter… and on other social media. Like David Byrne (read his thoughts above)… Just like so many of you amaze me each week on your blogs.
My online friend, the author LAURA GRACE WELDON has some of the MOST amazing Tweets! Last week I tried to pick a few you might like 🙂 (One of the nice things about Twitter is you can go back and read all the tweets – and even go back months!) Please follow her if you are on Twitter.
This is her: Writer, editor, farm wench, wonder junkie, awkward empath, aspiring hermit. http://lauragraceweldon.com
Laura has built a treasure on her website and in her poetry and in her books. (top photo) Please do this for you and go visit her website this winter. She’s been such a gift to me.
There were so many great tweets, it was hard to pick! See you all next week.