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Technology is killing us

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This strange development is new in some ways, and also not so new. Along with the accelerating pace and touted promises of new technology, doubts begin to emerge. Devices like iPhones embody the claim that high tech empowers and connects us. And yet have we ever been more disempowered, more isolated?

Disempowered to the point of a grave cynicism and loss of a sense of accountability or responsibility. Isolated in a society where we have fewer friends and visit them less often, according to the sociologists. The number who have no friends has tripled since the mid-1980s.

Isolated and unmoored in what is more and more a techno-culture, we witness a fraying of social bonds, an erosion of solidarity. It cannot be said that technology is the only factor, but it’s no coincidence that its rise as a condition of society is accompanied by ever-higher levels of feelings of being overwhelmed and dispersed.

I would go so far as to point to the now chronic rampage shootings as a phenomenon closely related to the technification of our lives. When people identify more closely with their devices that with their community, anything can happen. The growing fracture of the social bond means that anything can happen and does happen. Instant connection from nowhere to nowhere is no solution to our extremity.

The shootings — at school, in the workplace, at the mall — remain deliberately unexamined, and therefore mysterious. There is no discussion of what this trend is telling us about society. Meanwhile it grows worse: In the latest version, Dad (or Mom) slaughters the entire family.

When reality disappears behind a screen and direct experience fades, techno-mediation reaches new heights, while community, too, is on the wane. Virtual reality, anyone? It is a sad fact that there really is hardly any community left; that’s why politicians and developers use the word so often. Community in our day is neither durable nor face-to-face. Can the digital world really be called home?

So much of life these days is viewed in technological terms, as a how-to problem. What happened to our natural connections to the earth and one another, to our instincts as humans? This didn't happen overnight. In 1968, computer pioneer J.C.R. Licklider said, “In the future we’ll be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face-to-face.” The disenchanted techno-sphere has achieved this state by steadily eroding face-to-face communication. At what cost? Never mind the built-in surveillance function of cell phones, the risk of brain cancer, the fact that--like all the rest of the technological ensemble, they are built on the systematic destruction of the natural world. What is the human toll, and can there be an alternative to the fixation on such “wonderful” things?

Individual and social estrangement are bound up in the nature of mass society. How healthy are mass production, mass culture, mass consumption? Quite some time ago, W.H. Auden concluded that “the situation of our time surrounds us like a baffling crime.” But it is only baffling insofar as we continue to accept the main features of our time as givens — not open to question, not to be problematized or politicized.

A massive techno-alienation reaches into the family, too. No place is exempt. And this takes place in a context of unfolding environmental disaster, a context inseparable from the march of technology. Since 1800, global warming has corresponded to rising levels of global industrialization. Modern systems of technology — as opposed to tools — would not exist without industry.

iPhones and all the rest are part of this totality. A solution involves questioning all components. The techno-future is no future.

Zerzan is an anarcho-primitivist philosopher, and the author of several books. His website is


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