Information Technology: Its Metamorphosis and Impact on Human Relationships.
It has been said before that when one prays for rain, one should also prepare for mud. The benefits of rain are innumerable. It is a wonderful occurence in nature that nourishes the world, provides it with water and helps it yield all sorts of fruits. However, with rain we do end up having muddy grounds and floods resulting into mudslides. These are unintended consequences of an otherwise a healthy process. This example of rain fits beautifully in the picture when we consider equally innumerable benefits of Information Technology. The fact that the ability to disseminate information from one person to another with great facility has nourished the world in a special way is indispensable. It has revolutionized the world we live in and made it a small village; a global village as some call it. However, these benefits have not been without mudslinging and sometimes flooding of gigantic proportions in terms of social degradation. Anything that progresses wildly mirrors a wild fire; it leaves a discernible destructive path behind. The trajectory nature of this path is worth examining for, an unexamined life is not worth living, thus spoke Socrates. Therefore, it is the intention of this article, to explore the nature of the relationship between information technology and how it has and continues to affect real human relationships.
Looking back into history, human kind has always had the need to communicate. What is communicated is information. Since the object of the human intellect is to know and to love, the trajectory nature of human beings is to seek knowledge and love. This knowledge and love takes place in an environment of reciprocation. The quality of this reciprocity enhances the quality of relationships. The quality of relationships dictates the level of socializing. It is no small wonder that the ancients understood this earlier on when they coined the phrase: “I am because We are.” If for one reason, you think that there is no such a thing as a social order that the individual is forever subscribed to, then try acting without or against the society and/or the preset societal values. The society, invisible and non-existent as it seems to be, will come for you concretely and you will visibly be in pain in jail. In the final analysis, a continuum of good social habits births a society that everyone is proud to be part of. A society is anchored on values and therefore when information is disseminated, it has to be a value based endeavor or otherwise, the society would inevitably degenerate into an atmosphere of animosity and confusion. In such an environment, words hurt, gestures insult, silence scares and death deals. When people fight, when wars are waged, whenever families breakdown or whenever businesses close down, it is usually because the line of communication and information was at one point or another compromised.
In the old days, before the advent of the printed word and land line phonication, people used different methods to relay information and thus to communicate. Some of these ways included but were not limited to: Drums, clapping, fire, smoke, whistles, horns, runners and ululations. Drums were used to summon people together for a meeting. They were also used to announce victory or to demonstrate a joyous occasion. Naturally, people responded to drum beats by swaying or dancing during a happy occasion. The human body also produced sounds that could efficaciously communicate different things. People could scream or shout in times of danger. At times they could whistle a tune as they relaxed. Once in a while, the women and men with the rare ability would ululate to signal a climatic event during a celebration. People clapped hands and stamped feet to share feelings at different levels. Horns were instrumental in signaling victories during war, providing music during celebrations and calling people to gather for a meeting. Smoke was also used during travelling period to itinerate masses of people to locations of events. Where is there is smoke, there is fire and so it was then: even during the Mosaic period, a pillar of fire was used to guide the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land.
Looking at the examples above, we can easily point out a few challenges that resulted due to the use of these ways. Many people could not be reached at the same time. When one whistles or claps, only those within close proximity can have any hope of getting the message. The distance covered was ridiculously small and the effort put in to reach a few people was enormous. Imagine what kind of labor it took to light a bonfire, create a cloud of smoke, blow a horn for several hours, scream and run around spreading information. The processes were slow and the returns low. The signals were confusing and overlapping. You could not tell whether the horn was for joy or for sadness, whether the drums were warning you or inviting you to a party and screaming could not eloquently communicate fear or joy. People scream when scared and when pleasantly surprised as well. The messages could easily be distorted on their way to and from the receiver.
Somewhere a long the line, writing came into the scene. Writing revolutionized communication and information in unimaginable ways. There was longevity to the written word. It could be preserved for many centuries so that other generations would benefit from it. There was also an element of universality. Many people who learnt the art could know how to decipher information they had received from any location. The distance covered increased since letters could be carried to any location and the information would arrive in its unadulterated format. The printing press increased the volume of the communicational content and facilitated reading. It is definitely easier to read a type written form than to fight through people’s handwritings. It’s amazing how some of the finest people on earth are the very ones who can barely put something into legible writing: any doctors out there?
After writing, came the era of what for purposes of sarcasm I would call ‘telepathy’: telephone, telegram, telegraph and television. For the first time, you did not need to have anyone around to relay information. People began to hear voices and see images of people who were thousands of miles away; this was the formalization of Halloween. The distance covered by information was maximized while instantaneity was maintained. It was like magic. Without lifting a finger, one could speak through a microphone and move big masses of people through radio and television. Yes, one could move mountains. They could tell this mountain to move from one place to another and it did. Stories are told of how FDR used the media to reach out to the people during the hard times and made them feel at home and safe during depression while seated on a wheelchair. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior had the opportunity to impact people with his powerful messages through radio, television and other avenues of mass media. Even those who never saw him had a feeling that they knew him because seeing on television was the same as seeing in person. Such was the assumption even though the truth of the matter was actually nowhere close to the reality. It is actually very confusing when the truth is not real or rather when the reality is not true. Such is the case when you see people on TV, well, you are not seeing them!
After the era of writing, the error of computers and internet dawned on humanity. It became the pinnacle of communicational development. We are privileged in the twenty first century to be beneficiary of this hi-tech world. Just as Einstein said of the telegraph, we now have a big cat called the internet; you can pull the tail in New York and it meows in Djibouti, Jakarta, Bangladesh or Ouagadougou. Computers especially the Personal Computer and all its peripheral devices began to facilitate the quality of communication, its efficiency and speed in a mind boggling fashion. Accuracy and Speed became the default modus operandi. The sheer output of work was ridiculously high. One computer could now do the job for a thousand people.
There is no doubt that the invention of the computer has revolutionized finance industry, food production, retailing, church services, education sector and all facets of life. There are institutions of higher learning that are now talking about going completely paperless. The Kindle is fighting hard to replace books. Now with the Kindle, you can have volumes of texts in your small device and access it anywhere you want. It would be safe to say that after some time, people will go to the libraries only to find out how books look like. They might be the new museums where literal dinosaurs are kept on display in form of hard cover books.
Within the computer world, there is a special category of miniature devices that are popping up day after day: ipod, ipad, blueberry, blackberry, Bluetooth and other unfathomable pads berries and teeth. Within these hardwares, there are softwares that are designed to help you get hooked on them. These come in form of web pages, music and videos. Consequently, you have applications such as facebook, twitter, iTunes, QuickTime, YouTube and all sorts of tubes. All sorts of organizations use these avenues to put their agenda out there so as to maximize outreach. It is amazing how all facets of the society have determined that the web is the place to go so as to be heard. The blogosphere is now the new advertisement channel. Everyone is here: Technocrats, Democrats, Aristocrats, Autocrats, Pornocrats and all other rats.
With the dawn of this new web society, the value system has taken a paradigmatic shift. As we said in the beginning, the society is or rather ought to be anchored on values. A new problem that was not foreseeable is now permeating the society. There is no such a thing as commandments or supreme courts that govern the web world. Things that people could not do in public, they can now hook up on a webcam and do them and then share them with the public. The line between the sacred and the profane has never been thinner. Some pastor should probably start screaming: ‘thin no more’. Words or pictures that were considered obscene in the real world can now be sexted from one person to another. Every day, the news is replete with cases where people try to do something crazy so as to post it on YouTube; it could be fights among teens or some drunken underage party. In some severe cases, others have streamed live their suicide mission to curious onlookers on the webcams. Privacy has gone through the window, normalcy has taken the back seat and madness is on the driving seat. There are no set of values governing the process of disseminating information. The public and the pubic are now so similar beyond the syntax. The resulting disintegration within the human relationships is inevitable and unless something is done urgently, lives will continue to be lost and the technological monster will engulf us. The modern machine of development is behaving like hunger which threatens to eat away the stomach that gives it its very existence.
Let’s examine some of the few practical instances where relationships continue to take a downward spiral because of this rapid and unbridled use of informational gadgets. In many countries, there are complains that use of texting has led to quick spread of rumors and fear during political upheavals. People have used instant messaging to spread hatred and xenophobic attitudes leading to skirmishes and escalating violence. Bullying has taken a new format where kids and adults alike in possession of explicit or racy pictures of their friends forward them to the public domain in the event of a breakup or a scandal. People running for political office or reality shows have to make sure that they have no pictures of theirs anywhere online, a picture that they probably took unaware that some day, someone might think that having some clothes on is a good idea.
Looking at the family, the advanced methods of communication has discombobulated the basic structure of familial relations. For instance, it is not uncommon to walk into homes and find all the kids and their families glued onto some form of screen with little or no interaction among themselves. Thanks to cable television, internet, video games and ipads, a little chatting among family members is now considered interference. People spend their free time online and working hours online. Any time offline, is spent either watching baseball or football and weekends are spent watching movies. You just wonder who is watching the kids and who is taking care of the spiritual needs of the adults.
The rotten fruits of familial and human disconnect is strewn all over the society. With online dating, you don’t even have to meet the people you want to marry. Once people get together after meeting online, they keep on meeting other people online. Infidelity creeps in effortlessly. These get-togethers when they mature into some caricatures of real relationships are as transient as their beginnings. Cell phones have in a way become a tool for perfecting extramarital affairs while internet pornography provides unhealthy emotional alternatives for concrete frustrations and shortcomings within conjugal duty.
Another area that is worth noting is the genre of communication that results due to the excessive use of automatic vending machines. Almost all services right now are at the verge of being automatically vended. Just think about it for a minute: In one given day, an individual can push buttons on the coffee machines and get a full breakfast plus nutritional bars to top it. After that, the first stop at the gas station requires a credit card and the fuel tank tells you what to do to fill your gas tank and the receipts comes out with an offer for you to go to a car wash. At the car wash, the magic continues. A few buttons are pushed and the car is ready to be washed with a sparkling shine for a finish and a drier finishes the job without the driver ever stepping off the car. For grocery shopping later in the day, a trip to Walmart where everything under one roof suffices, there are automatic self-checkouts that the individual can operate with ease and leave the store without saying a word to any one.
At home, the microwave button is pushed to warm a precooked food. After eating the pre-cooked food from walmart, the individual throws the plates in the dishwasher, pushes the button and the job will be done smoothly. Sadly, at bed time, if the person is so inclined, there would be a stack of adult machines in the name of vibrators or some other sophistication to take care of the libido and call it a day. Now, without playing the devil’s advocate, with this kind of life, devoid of human contact and a personal relationship with the transcendent, meaninglessness creeps in day after day. Eventually, it is not uncommon to find a person so lonely and depressed that the next button they end up pushing is that of a pistol in their mouth!Looking at all this progress or lack of it, it seems that the confusion and animosity that we had with traditional methods of communication during the Stone Age are now being duplicated in complicated ways. The message is susceptible to alterations, distortion is the norm since many people can hack into systems and falsify the stored information. You begin to wonder whether or not in the final analysis, real progress has taken place. If communication is still meant to have integrity and value, then that integral value needs to be relocated. A method of communication that breaks down the family, limits physical and social relations, breaks heart and abrogates the position of the divine in our lives is still far from achieving what communication is meant to achieve. The seeming progress in information technology if not tempered with prudence and value system, will be beginning of the end of human relations as we have known it hitherto and the end of humanity as it ought to be, where ought in this case implies must.