Between the Lines: A Conversation with Matthew Dickerson

We recently got a chance to talk with Brazos author Matthew Dickerson about his book The Mind and the Machine (2011). Here is Part 1 of that interview:

1:  Are social media and our increasing reliance on technology indicative of future human and technology integration?

When I was a college student, my friends and I were aware of our university’s seeming efforts to control where and with whom we spent time our social time.  We used to criticize these efforts as attempts to engineer our associations and relationships. The term “engineer”, of course, was metaphorical in one sense; no significant modern technology was being used. It was done through rules and incentives.

In hindsight, what went on twenty-five years ago feels like nothing compared to the extent to which our present society—and, indeed, human life itself—is increasingly both engineered and technology-dependent. For example, how so many of our relationships are entirely virtual? I am “friends” with people I’ve never met, and may never meet. And these friendships take place through tightly controlled technologies whose main goal is the extraction of personal information from users, and the sale of products to users.  Their goal is not to foster healthy relationships. The fact that these technologies may be used in real and good relationships is coincidental or accidental.

Even more concerning, we treat human bodes like machines to be mechanically tinkered with, or in cases entirely re-engineered. I’m not speaking if surgeries like hip and knee replacements, or vision correction—technologies that help seriously wounded, aged, or diseased bodies to continue to function, and for which I am thankful. Nor am I speaking of drugs for the physically or psychologically ill. Rather, I am speaking about drugs to change our very personalities, and of technologies to engineer our bodies to be something different. We use technologies to change the sizes of our noses, breasts, and buttocks. We even change our biological sex through both drugs and surgery.

We are not so much integrating human and technology as we are confusing the two.

And for that reason, I think that the trend will continue, and even accelerate. Too few people are asking questions about what is desirable. We tend to ask, instead, only about what is possible. That is the nature of a culture, like ours, that is enamored with technology, and sees it as a means of salvation. And my main response to this is a simple line of questions. “Has it made us happier persons? Has it made us more content as persons? Has it made us better persons?”