The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free. –Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Let me ask you a question: Between a farmer and his milk cow, who is the master and who is the slave?
Most people will be inclined to say the farmer because he is the one who “owns” the cattle as a product; he can do as he wish with what he possesses.
But let’s look at it from a different perspective. Although the farmer may “own” his cows, he must invest his time and labour in them. He must have ranch to raise them, he must provide food for them to feed on, and he must take care of their health and safety. In return, all the cows needs to do is provide milk and not cause any trouble. Yes, they’re caged and their mobility is limited, but they’re protected from predators and are allowed to live an easy and comfortable life.
So I’ll ask again: Who is the master and who is the slave? It’s not so certain anymore. But perhaps, thinking in terms of master-slave dichotomy is flawed to begin with. Master-slave is a human social construct that doesn’t apply to nature. The farmer and his cows don’t have a power dynamic (even if the human may have more say), the two have formed a relationship for mutual benefit—an artificial symbiosis if you will.
And who started this symbiosis? Did humans start it by capturing and taming the beasts? Or did the beasts start it by becoming placid and cozy with the humans? Does it matter?
Now let’s get to the topic of interest: Technology. I will ask you a similar question to the one before: Between man and technology, who is the master? Can you say with confidence that we, humans, have full control over our own destiny? Can you be certain?
Think about the following:
- Are the foods you eating natural or products of technology? Even when you buy fruits or vegetables, you can be sure that they’ve been modified and grown with industrial chemicals. And most people don’t even eat those relatively natural foods, preferring processed products instead.
- Where are you living? How to you travel around? How are you reading this? Are any of them natural? Are they even handmade? They’re all likely industrial products made using modern technology. If you’re reading this, you probably live in a city—a concrete jungle. You probably won’t be allowed to live in the woods even if you wanted to, and you probably don’t even want to.
- How do you go on living? You most likely don’t hunt for food or go out to forage them. Unless someone else is supporting you, you’re selling your labour to the society—the biggest technological creation of all—in exchange for money that will get you basic needs. Your job is not something you created; it was created by our technological society and you merely decided to take up on it.
So, if all of the above are true, are we not just as controlled and domesticated as the cows in the farm? Domesticated and controlled by technology and society? Just like the cows, we accept our limited conditions because of comfort and security. We like being paid and taken care of by the society in exchange for the labour we offer. Even if we don’t like the arrangement, there’s little choice. Like the cattle, we are not allowed to go back to the wild. Even if we tried, we probably wouldn’t make it because we’ve been conditioned to live in an artificial society, we wouldn’t know how to survive without technology.
What we have formed is something identical to symbiosis with technology. Our destinies are now intertwined. We’re neither a slave nor a master, but not completely free or in control either.
Now, some people reading this will disagree. They’ll maintain that we still have free will to do as we wish or just flat out not care because they see it as an advantage. I think those views are naive at best.
First, the concept of free will can’t be trusted. How would you know if what you desire is truly your own will? We know from history and present just how easy it is to manipulate people’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. No one openly admits that they’re being manipulated, then they wouldn’t have been to begin with. And our current technological society is the most intrusive kind that has ever existed in history of mankind. We are bombarded by non-stop advertisements luring us to buy things we don’t need and to engage in the shallow pleasures of the world. We are conditioned what to think and say from a young age through the education system. There are also cultural influences that act similar to viruses such as customs, religions, ideologies, political correctness, and more. We are the most controlled and dictated people to have ever existed on Earth.
If a person is compelled to check his phone or emails on a regular basis, is he in control of himself? If he is working a job because he has to, is he in control of his life? If he engages in antiphysical activities, is he doing it because he wants or because there’s no other alternative for him? Did we ever have a choice whether we wanted to live in a technological society or not? Have we not merely been brainwashed to accept it?
Technology’s control over the human race is devious because it targets our subconscious mind rather than the conscious. If someone forced you to do a job you don’t like by threatening you with a gun, you will feel consciously oppressed and resent that person. You might even resist and fight back. But if you are doing a job you don’t like that is offered by our technological society, you’re doing it out of necessity—you are implicitly threatened with poverty if you refuse. Because the technology doesn’t physically force you, you don’t have a conscious awareness that you are being coerced. You have no concrete oppressor to defy. I believe this is why so many people today suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression today, with few even going on a killing spree. They are oppressed, but they can’t figure out how.
With technology’s increasing complexity, we are slowly losing more of our self-determination. Basic technology like knife or clothes don’t control us. We may dedicate our labour to their creation, but they are our tools. Modern technology, on the other hand, makes the distinction harder to make. We dedicate more time, more resources, and more attention to our ever growing number of machines and devices. It’s harder to say that we’re using them as tools anymore. If anything, we can even say that the machines have tamed us into maintaining them. We create them, we fix them, we take of them, we live in them, we use them to drug ourselves, we exist to keep them going.
Some people look forward to further technological development, believing that technological progress is always a good thing. These people ignore the damage to human life and dignity that technology has wrought upon on our world. They don’t seem to care that people are getting dumber and shallower, and their health is decaying at a grotesque rate. They close their eyes to the environmental catastrophes and unsustainable population growth; they couldn’t care less as long as they are getting their profits and novelty. These technophiles are not even slightly worried about the negative consequences. I’m not even advocating total rejection of technology, but these people don’t even question them. And most others, of course, don’t even care. Even many who read this article will probably forget about it and continue living as the way they’ve been conditioned to.
Then there are those who claim that we just need to take personal responsibility and “moderate” our use of technology. Personal responsibility is important, but that doesn’t change the fundamental current of our society. Moderation can only go so far and every new technology will eventually go from being a novelty and luxury to being a necessity to function in a society. Credit cards and internet have already become almost indispensable, how much longer before smartphones and RFIDs become items of necessity? And the entire idea of moderation is absurd. Who decides what is moderate? What constitutes moderation? Technological society constantly pushes the bar of “moderation” up higher and higher. You can’t moderate something that is artificial and growing.
I see increasing human dependency on technology and I am starting to think that mankind is going on an irreversible path towards total synthesis with technology, towards complete subjugation under the System. I get sick of our so-called “civilization” with every passing day. I hate the fact that my life is so dependent of technology—that I have to use a laptop and internet like a hypocrite to even criticize it. My use of technology is somewhat basic and I already feel like the society is leaving me behind. Refusing to engage in social media and not watching movies and television is already making me feel like an outsider, a straggler who isn’t going along with the times. My partial freedom is paying a social price.
We should also remember that technology doesn’t develop in a linear progress; it develops exponentially. It develops in ways we can’t predict. The damaging effects of technology will only get worse in the coming years, and a lot sooner than anyone can even imagine.