Are we heading down the wrong path?
Philosophers like to question everything and many of them love a bit of a moan. Much writing about contemporary culture reads as a lamenting of the youth of today; a claim that things were better before, that we've lost our way.
What has changed?
In premodern times things were clear: authority came from God. In modern times things changed but reason took over as the ultimate source of authority. Now, in postmodern times, anything goes. Any or no source of authority can now be accepted. Absolute truth has been abandoned and we can be what we want to be. We are no longer defined by our birth status or biological makeup and this has created progress in many ways. One is no longer limited by being a peasant, a woman or gay for example, we have been liberated from the confines of the past and we can be more authentic than ever before.
But are our lives actually more real, more authentic or have we lost touch with reality? Have social and technological changes alienated us from reality and in turn ourselves and each other?
The controversial philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard claimed that postmodern society is characterised by Hyperreality, an age of simulation in which the real no longer exists. Celebrity culture, pornography, computer games, news reports and all media contribute to a manufactured world which has now become our world. The media is an orchestrated spectacle, manipulated by power-players with a set agenda. Wars are staged, politicians are lying to us and the smoke screens are pulled by diverting our attention from this atrocity to the war on terrorism / drugs / immigration.
Is Baudrillard right?
If he is, things are only going to get worse as technology advances. The psychologist Sherry Turkle argues that we have become isolated from ourselves and each other as our reliance on technology has increased. We are increasingly incapable of solitude, turning to our mobile devices the second we are alone. Our online lives and identity can be edited, perfected and controlled. Since we cannot exert the same level of control over our real lives, we prefer to be online. It is easier and safer and machines are always there for us. Turkle’s view is pessimistic but most of us can relate to at least some of what she says. Perhaps we are losing a grip on reality as our real lives take up less and less of our day.
Second Life: “Finally, love your friends, love your body and love your life.”
Should we allow science and technology a totally free reign in its advances?
It may be time to stop and ask some serious questions about the impact which technology is having on humanity. Increasingly, humans are losing their jobs as they are being replaced by machines. Are we willing to favour profit and efficiency over human flourishing?