The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
11.3 (Summer 2011)
the polis vs. progress
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Technology: Culture’s Deterioration
Wesley Ross Harris
Every society throughout history has developed ways in which its members fulfill their needs. Over time, these ways solidify into traditions which are passed down from generation to generation. Eventually, the rational purpose for the tradition is more or less forgotten and the tradition becomes a mere ritual done for empirical reasons—in other words, the rituals endure because “things have always been done this way”—and thus a culture is born. However, over the course of time, technological developments make the satisfying of certain needs easier and less exhausting, therefore negating the necessity for the traditions originally used to meet those needs. Thus advanced technology and related forces of modernity work against culture by altering the way in which individuals fulfill certain needs. The empeiros, or experience, inherited from an immemorial past loses its self-justifying quality in the face of so much superior “efficiency.”
The invention of the car in the early 20th century completely changed the face of transportation. Distances that took hours to travel without the motorized vehicle could now be covered in a matter of minutes. Thus, people forsook walking and riding bicycles for locomotion; instead, they drove cars to their destinations. The way in which individuals transport themselves was therefore altered from a very simple form to a more efficient, convenient form. Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck argue in their book Suburban Nation that the more roads that are built in a city, the less “livable” the city will be (85). The authors maintain that a direct correlation exists between traffic lanes and the amount of traffic: “The simple truth is that building more highways and widening existing roads, almost always motivated by concern over traffic, does nothing to reduce traffic. In the long run, in fact, it increases traffic” (88). The problem of traffic congestion is not necessarily caused by the desire to transport from one place to another, but by the means of transportation—the car. The reason for the authors’ vehemence against increasing the volume of traffic in cities is due to their yearning to regain the traditional—one could say “more cultured”—atmosphere of “pedestrian-friendly quality, and… uninterrupted countryside” (87). Thus technology—in this case the automobile—alters the way in which people satisfy their needs while simultaneously eradicating the sense of tradition inherent in the manner in which the need was originally met.
The modern American idea of how to be satisfied in life is completely different from the view held by Americans living one hundred years ago. Early 20th century Americans probably tried to find satisfaction more in others around them than in material objects. However, due to the advent of the television and video games, current-day Americans seek to find satisfaction more from sitcoms and x-box than from friends and family. Jeff Jacoby argues in “A Desensitized Society Drenched in Sleaze” that the explosion of sex and violence on television corrupts the moral values of Americans. He maintains that the more one observes spiteful or licentious acts on TV, the more tolerable they become “because [they] less and less scandalizes us” (667). Jacoby goes on to compare modern-day music with art from previous historical eras: “To suggest that Snoop Doggy Dogg’s barbaric gang-rape fantasies somehow follow in the tradition of Sophocles’ tragic drama, Chaucer’s romantic poetry, or Solzhenitsyn’s moral testimony is to suggest that there is no difference between meaning and meaninglessness” (667). Jacoby, therefore, reveals his belief that technology degrades American culture.
Just as television erodes culture, common technology erodes culture by progressively eradicating one’s work ethic. By allowing more work to be done with less exertion, technology decreases the amount of effort an individual must expend in order to take care of himself and his family, thus slowly undermining his work ethic. The rituals once used to meet needs are replaced by rituals requiring less effort to perform, therefore wearing away one’s sense of culture. For example, mothers of families in the late 19th century had to cook meals from scratch, in many cases growing vegetables or milking cows and then cooking the food for the majority of their day. In the modern age, however, refrigerators and microwaves have made it possible to prepare lunch or dinner in a matter of minutes, thus erasing the sense of culture one feels after spending an entire day preparing food for the family and extirpating the need for a strong work ethic in order to prepare food from scratch.
The aim of technology is to make life easier. However, in creating an easier life technology to some extent erodes human virtues such as a good work ethic, patience, and ethical principles. The challenge, then, is to find a way to integrate the use of technology in one’s daily life but simultaneously to protect the virtues of a good work ethic, patience, and ethical principles. Retaining culture, therefore, is not important simply for the sake of sacrosanct tradition, but for the preservation of human virtues.
Wesley Ross Harris is not related to this journal’s editor but has studied under him (with the highest distinction) at the University of Texas at Tyler. Wesley has transferred to the system’s flagship campus in Austin, where he will begin his studies in Fall 2011