Late in the evening, when I finish my work, I go to my room and ask my personal assistant to play whatever music I feel like. She is very efficient, and always does her best to find exactly the piece of music I am looking for. Her name is Alexa, my digital voice assistant! This is the world we live in today, where we engage with Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. More and more people get close to technology, and further away from themselves and others.
Technology is a wonderful gift to mankind. It has brought the world to us, we have access to world news as it happens; we can be in contact with near and dear from anywhere in the world. It is a lifeline for older and vulnerable people confined to their homes, particularly during this time of Covid. Technology is responsible for great advances everywhere — robot-assisted surgery allows for extraordinary precision in complicated surgeries, bionic limbs, artificial hearts, all give new life and freedom to people. Our smartphones give us access to voicemails, messages, Instagram, Google, photos, games files, an endless list of options.
I would say, technology is not the problem, but how our relationship with it is developing is creating many problems. Less and less we spend real time with each other, or with ourselves. People are more interested in what is happening on their screens than what is happening to the people around them. One of the new words added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2019, was “Nomophobia”, which is defined as “anxiety about not having access to a mobile phone or mobile phone services.” Across the world, rehabilitation centres are now offering programmes for people who are technologically addicted. The distractions offered by technology are becoming an obsession, encouraging us to live a life based on what is out there, rather than what is inside. Our senses are stimulated from morning to night, we are never alone. The well-known American psychiatrist and author Edward Hallowell summarises it well: “Never in human history have our brains had to work with so much information as they do today…..We have a generation of people who are so busy processing the information received from all directions that they are losing the ability to think and feel.”
How many parents go to collect their children from school with their phone to their ear? This is such a great time to connect with children when they are bursting with news after their day. If we are too busy checking our emails or messages to give them our attention what message are we giving them? We hand them the iPad so that we can get on with other things. How many people go for a walk with their headphones in? How can you experience what nature offers if you are on your phone, or listening to music? How often do you spot something beautiful- a bird, a sunset -, and you take out your phone to capture it, instead of letting yourself enjoy the feeling of your experience? All of these things disconnect us from the essence of who we are.
I suggest we must learn to use technology mindfully and teach our children to do the same. Relationships are part of what make us social beings, but more and more, people are basing relationships on social platforms. One true friend is better than 1000s of Facebook friends. Basing the value we have of ourselves on the number of “likes” we get, measuring ourselves against unrealistic airbrushed images, and comparing what we have based on what we see on social media, can never bring us to a peaceful mind. We will never have enough or be enough for ourselves. It is like living in the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, one of the Buddhist six realms through which the Wheel of Life passes. Images of this realm show miserable creatures with narrow necks through which nothing can pass.
These creatures also have huge bellies full of their unmet desires. It is an extreme image of human craving, representing an endless desire for satisfaction that can never be met.
As human beings we have qualities no machine will ever have — the capacity to live in awareness, the gifts of reason, intellect and freewill. We have a heart and a soul. Technology is a gift we should use wisely and mindfully.