The society convened for the third time this semester to debate something near and dear to all of our hearts: the effect rampant use of technology has on our species, and whether it is for better or for worse.
Affirming Resolved: Modern technology corrodes our humanity was keynote speaker Mr. Warren Wilson (SFS ’15) of Florida. Negating was Mr. Daniel Kendrick of Alabama (COL ’15).
Mr. Wilson began his opening speech by laying out the framework he and Mr. Kendrick had agreed upon: the resolution was to be interpreted as “Modern technology makes us isolated and leaves us unfulfilled.” Mr. Wilson pinpointed our mindset of “instrumentality”, that is, seeing the world in terms of what benefit we can reap from it. This resource-based mindset derives from modern technology. Where humans had once structured their lives around their environments, they now structure their environments to meet their lives. Where we had once depended on each other to survive, we are now able to survive without community. Modern technology makes us see one another only as a means to an end, disregards intrinsic value (something being good in of itself), leaving us isolated and unfulfilled.
Mr. Kendrick opened his opening keynote by dissuading floor speakers on the Negation from using obvious arguments in favor of technology, such as resulting increased lifespan and life quality, and urged the debate in the direction of whether or not the shift towards instrumentality is good. Mr. Kendrick argued that we ought to employ the mindset of objective value: “Something has value in its relation to your basic needs. One’s own life is the most basic need.” Thus, something is valuable insofar as it improves your life, which Mr. Kendrick argued modern technology has done.
To open the floor speeches, agreeing with Mr. Wilson, Ms. Anna Hernick argued that modern technology encourages us to live for the display we can put on for others and not for our own enjoyment. Ms. Julia Christensen argued that loneliness is pervasive to the human condition. Modern technology, rather than making us isolated, alerts us to how much we can do but haven’t done, creating feelings of disillusion. Ms. Amanda Wynter countered that technology makes us think our happiness (or lack thereof) is both quantifiable and solvable, yet sadness cannot be cured with an iPhone app. Mr. Jacob Arber asked the negation to provide, clearly, the causal link between modern technology and instrumentality. President Peter Prindiville argued that lack of community is directly linked to sadness and depression, and technology, in allowing man to be individualist and survive without community, saps him of that vital structure. Ms. Colleen Wood posited that the previous speech was steeped in an American exceptionalist mindset, arguing that just because Americans use technology to isolate themselves does not mean other nations don’t use it to facilitate community.
During the non-member speaking time, Mr. Patrick Gage (SFS ’17) pointed out the absurdity of picking and choosing examples: “Just because America ‘did it wrong’ and Turkey ‘did it right’ does not mean we disregard the detrimental effects technology has in fact had.” Mr. Gage argued that pride, enhanced by use of technology, destroys community. Ms. Asha Thanki (SFS ’17) argued that pride, like instrumentality, is innate to humanity, and suggested that rather than corroding our humanity technology merely diverts our humanity into other, newer arenas. Ms. Ashley Burke (COL ’17 urged the Society to not look at where we are not but rather look at the direction technology is going. Ms. Burke purported the ability of technology to dominate over humanity either now or in the future. Mr. Drew Cunningham (COL ’14) warned against “slippery slope-ing” the debate, and, arguing in defense of technologically-driven community, remarked how astounding it is that we are able to connect to people all around the world with the click of a mouse. “Modern technology brings us closer and closer to our telos of fulfillment.”
Returning to member speaking time, Vice President Patrick Spagnuolo refuted the claim that the affirmative side had to prove that technology alone causes isolation, pointing out the age-old impossibility of proving direct causation of anything. Rather, it is enough to say that modern technology makes fulfillment more difficult, and makes ignoring what really matters much easier. Mr. Gavin Bade contended that capitalism, not technology, is the root of our instrumental mindset and corroding condition. Mr. Christopher Stromeyer alleged that technology allows us to do more, but with less significance and depth, which is the basis of the human condition. Mr. Stromeyer closed with wisdom from T.S. Elliot: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” Mr. Christopher DiMisa argued that technology enhances inherently human traits such as pride and invidivualism, and thus enhances, not corrodes, humanity. Mr. Greg Miller argued that in removing us from our environment, modern technology removes us from the basis of our existence. Ms. Abigail Grace urged the Society not to look at the resolution “through the lens of privilege,” but to consider the voices technology and the information age has given to the voiceless. Ms. Emily Coccia countered that true community cannot be found when it is seen only as a means to an end, as technologically enhanced communities tend to be used. Mr. Michael Mouch asserted the absurdity, and perhaps futility, of debating the benefits of something that is so inextricably and irreversibly woven into our lives as technology. Ms. Emilie Siegler argued that along with our new found need for technology comes a loss of self-efficiency and mastery over ourselves.
As we returned to the keynote speakers, Mr. Kendrick refuted the idea that community is the source of our identity. In a romantic analogy rare to the Philodemic, Mr. Kendrick pointed out that “You can’t say I love you without knowing how to say the ‘I’.” Not the product of lack of community, isolationism derives from a loss of Enlightenment values. Now that we know vastness of our world and universe, we feel much more lost, adrift, and unsure of how to make our lives significant than we did in earlier eras. Mr. Wilson brought the debate back to the framing, repeating that technology does affect us, the question being how and whether or not for the better. While instrumentality has had its benefits, it is not sacrosanct and cannot be given a blank check. Viewing everything through a resource-driven lens saps us of our humanity and our potential to be fulfilled. Mr. Wilson closed on a hopeful note, however. “Of course we can’t go back, but we can go forward.”
The society voted 24 – 4 – 28 to negate the resolution.
Madeleine M. Ringwald