Technology’s Ultimate Purpose: An Altruistic Approach
Following my previous blog discussion concerning the sociotechnical nature of today’s society and workplace, Saybrook student Brett Joseph commented, "It is time for us to pause and consider how best to ensure that we protect and nurture our humanity.... I submit that, as we enter this timely dialogue about the implications of living in a cybernetic world, we have an opportunity to attend to some unfinished business: the legacy of the very industrial culture that brought us to our current crossroads of promise and peril."
This is a pivotal challenge to accept for technological applications work best when they are: applied with critical reflection grounded in systems thinking and sustainable principles; are rooted in a human-centric perspective; and are directed towards technology’s highest purpose—the enhancement of people and their natural environment.
Hanna Arendt speaks of men and women as "homo faber," or fashioners of tools and processes that create the world in which they live and work. In this manner they participate in shaping their own existence and ecological system.
The 21st century is a sociotechnological world where machines are an integral, essential aspect of the human environment. Common in this landscape is a vast array of digital gadgets and devices, like computers, iPads, cellphones, social media platforms, webinars, knowledge management systems, polling tools, and video games. Then there are hybrid cars, HD televisions, and iPods. The list could go on for pages.
Looking past the commercial glitz and entertainment aspects of the gadgetry, technology is discovered to be applied intelligence that augments human capabilities and enhances the human condition. Its highest altruistic purpose is to improve the quality of life.
Since the dawn of time technology has been a fundamental aspect of the human enterprise that arises from human creativity and artfulness. When its ramifications are consciously thought out and directed towards its highest purpose, it is the practical application of human intelligence intended to overcome drawbacks in the human condition and to make life better. This can easily be seen in the numerous advancements in medicine and healthcare, civic safety, emergency and rescue operations, agriculture and food production, housing construction, travel, general personal and workplace communication, and business operations and manufacturing.
When deployed sustainably and in a socially responsive manner, technology’s impact enhances the overall global system, making the world community more vibrant and prosperous. People and the natural environment flourish.
For many, technology is now so integral to maintaining one’s livelihood that it has become fundamental to human existence. Modern digital technology related to information sharing, communication, collaboration, and learning are so central to daily living and working, the operations of business, and the functioning of governments that technology now needs to be treated as a resource and necessity just like food, water, clothing, housing, telephone, and electricity.
Technology, though, is transformative, and can easily mechanize the people who use it and the environment in which it operates. For these reasons, society and its institutions must be critically reflective about technology’s applications, be cognizant of its impact, and be proactive in dealing with any adverse effects.
The appropriate response to technology, in general, and to digital information and communications systems in particular, is one of hope, promise and excitement, coupled with prudence, caution, and a sense of uneasiness. The reasons are simple and two-fold. Since it can be used for a variety of purposes, it can be life-giving or destructive.
Technology is an artificial entity; a human creation. It takes on the values of its creators and users. Its design and application must always be consciously guided by principles and values that foster human dignity and seek to improve the world at large. If this is done, technology will less likely:
- Harm, infringe upon rights, debase life, or dehumanize people.
- Divorce the person from the natural environment.
- Make people subordinate to the technological aspects of the cybernetic system.
Thus, technology’s ultimate purpose is to aid in sustaining life, humanizing the world, and empowering people to reach their fullest potential as individuals and collectives. In this manner, technology embodies its own sense of dignity as a valued instrument of service. The challenge, then, is to ensure that social and business applications:
- Complement and advance the human and environmental systems in which they are deployed.
- Enhance the person and society; that is, expand human and civic capabilities, abilities and potential.
- Serve humankind as a resource shared for the benefit of the common good.
- Empower and enable the people who use them to be more fully human, enjoy life, and work in a purposeful and meaningful manner.
- Liberate people not only from human inadequacies, limitations, and frailties, but free people to be their authentic selves and reach their potential and obtain higher levels of existence.
- Bring people into a deeper experience of life and purposeful relationships.
- Enhance the quality of life and work, making them more artful and beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling.
With these thoughts in mind, I return to Brett’s point: "As we co-evolve with our technology, we must learn to see the natural in the synthetic, and to work with and through our technologies in participatory and mindful ways that mimic the functioning of healthy natural ecosystems. The emerging field of biomimicry offers principles and practices that might guide us well in this area."
And the conversation continues…