Are We on the Threshold of the “Second Coming of the Machine Age?"

In a sense, the first machine age was the industrial revolution (late 1700s – early 1800s), and it was an era in which we became capable of doing things faster and making more things for more people. We were quite busy and quite occupied with harnessing machines that would change our lifestyles. This was an age of “machines.” These changes certainly impacted the evolution of our physical existence.

The following might be suggestive of word associations representing the eras of the evolution of emotional / behavioral disorders that we have gone through.

There was an era when the so-called behavioral enlightenment was being brought into our consciousness; words like “crazy,” “hopeless,” “institutionalizing,” “lobotomy,” “demons,” and “bad spirits” would come to mind. We then went through an era of words like “subconscious,” “hypnosis,” “id,” “ego” “superego” “repression,” “sex drive,” “electro convulsive therapy,” “talk therapy,” and “coping.” The next era of words included “anxiolytics,” “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” “antidepressants,” and “side effects.” Soon words such as “brain mapping,” “human genome,” “reactive receptor sites,” “neuropathways,” “neurotransmitters,” “synaptic functions,” “gene sequencing,” and “functional imaging” suggested another era in the making. Eventually words such as “genetic engineering,” “chemically tailored medications or nutrients,” “central nervous system structural re-modeling,” “implanted micro-chips,” and “laboratory produced” represented yet another era in our march for progress. The one common thread joining all of these eras of our evolution is human-to-human contact.

The next era will most likely be characterized by words such as “self-controlled,” “self-modulated,” “self-regulating,” “implants,” “automatic,” “sub-molecular,” “plasticity,” “bioelectric medicine,” “robotics,” and “voice / thought activated.” A glaring difference between this newest set of objectives and concerns and all of the aforementioned periods of development (and appropriate associated words) appears to be less of a need for human-to-human contact.

Isn’t it interesting that not too long ago we considered solitary confinement as a punishment and now so many voices are rising up against this punishment because it is inhumane? Yet here we are, striving to scientifically find ways and technologies that might make it easier and easier to exist alone. To some this may seem to be approaching nirvana or utopia or a perfect existence. Others may view this as the diminishing of what many consider to be the most important element in defining the difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom (in other words “humanism”), and that is human contact.

When we consider anxiety disorders or some personality disorders, we recognize the common characteristic of avoidance behavior. Is texting and sexting becoming new displays of avoidance behavior? Is limiting communication to using the social medias becoming a new display of avoidance behavior?

I have spoken with students or patients who describe similar patterns of behavior. They go, as pairs, to shop and one goes into the store or mall while the other stays in the car or finds a seat and immerses her / himself (usually) in the “phone screen.” I have observed, literally, four people sitting at a table at a restaurant and each one is occupied with the phone.

Since we see so much of this involvement with the “screen” at such young ages, are we conditioning a collective / societal mind-set that pulls us deeper into a type of isolated existence? We generally have recognized a need for and a definition of proper, acceptable, social etiquette (as prescribed by different cultures). Shouldn’t we be thinking about what proper, acceptable “technological” etiquette is? Someone once coined an expression, “the eyes are the windows to one’s soul”. Unfortunately we seem to be looking into one’s eyes less and less…of course unless one becomes an ophthalmologist! Even then we probably will come up with some automated controlled, remote device that we can use to look into someone’s eyes, a continent away!

As we strive for a more perfect existence, might we be trading off human contact? How will we feel if we become less and less interdependent on each other? More and more satisfied with punching buttons and / or relying on implanted, synthetically engineered, feedback mechanisms controlling our organ systems. Will we be able to find ways to insure a productive blending of humanism and an automated existence?

Are we entering another “machine age” and if so, will we be the machines?

Author Bio(s)

Robert Grosz, EdD, is a professor and psychologist in the College of Health Care Sciences at Nova Southeastern University.


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