Why we can't resist our technology

Technology is made by people for people

Many of us fear that technology is getting in the way our personal relationships. We prefer to believe that a connection 'in the flesh' will always be better than any form of 'watered down' virtual interaction.

The thing is that we don’t like change. We feel lost when we step outside of our comfort zone. We avoid what is new because it brings risk and risk brings fear. But despite our reluctance to embrace change, somehow we can’t resist pursuing technological advancement.

If anyone out there in the universe is watching us, they must think that we are quite amusing. It must be hilarious to see how we keep creeping ourselves out with our own inventions, rejecting them at first, only to wind up being incapable of living without them.

The reason why we behave like this probably has much to do with how we stack our priorities.

Abraham Maslow helped us understand this better. In 1943, he published a paper titled “A theory of human motivation”. His idea - best known in the shape of his eponymous pyramid - became the universally accepted standard for the way we rank our essential needs:

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It comes as no surprise that our first priority is all about staying alive. This explains why our default programming is to be risk-averse and suspicious towards any form of novelty. These are the physiological needs.

The next rung on our ladder of basic needs is to find love and belonging. Humans are social beings. We crave a deeper connection with others. To fulfil that desire, we will adopt any means necessary to achieve this goal. In fact, many of us will do anything for love, even ignore our own need for safety. This is where things start getting a bit more complicated.

Now, pay good attention here because we are about to make an important connection:

 

It turns out that the fear that technology will distance us from each other is reversed when we realise that it actually brings us closer together!

 

In other words, what is first seen as a threat to our need for love and belonging eventually becomes the enabler!

Most of our technological advances happen because they allow us to meet our basic need to connect with each other.

To get a better understanding of this, we need to take a short detour into a brief history of innovation.

Let's explore our first major innovative leap. One we all use and take for granted: LANGUAGE

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Language:

The first super app

Now, let's take it a notch further. Consider the 'technology' of graphic expression and/or the written word.

Before we figured out how to record our messages, we passed our information only through direct human interaction. We would package our information in the form of stories to make our messages more memorable.

The appearance of graphical art and writing was a revolution. It provided us with the amazing ability to connect with others through non-human intermediaries.

I know this sounds a bit abstract but the essence of evolving our artistic expressions was really about passing our ideas on to as many people as possible.

Graphic expression was an enormous leap in human evolution. We could now leave messages that transcend the here and the now. Think about the paintings on the walls of prehistoric caves or the symbols of ancient civilisations. Consider how they helped us understand the thoughts and lives of those who weren’t there with us.

Now it was possible to make 'mini-versions' of ourselves that told our stories for us. This was powerful stuff!

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Communication 2.0

Skipping over a few more chapters in our social innovation saga, the next big 'killer app' was the invention of the printing press. It was now possible to distribute our messages to the masses.

Mind you that back then, those who possessed the skills to read and write were part of an elite. They used to keep this privilege to themselves until they finally understood that there was a clear advantage to having widespread literacy.

Why?

First of all, the realisation that mass-produced literature could scale up yet another insatiable human aspiration: the ambition to influence others. This motivation comes from our need to achieve self-actualisation.

And secondly, and arguably more importantly, while it was the elite's priority to keep their subjects as dumb as possible throughout history, it was the advent of the industrial revolution that created an incentive to re-format the population into a useful and reliable workforce. It is the reason that after being encouraged to remain illiterate for as long as we can remember, we suddenly found ourselves in a classroom learning how to read and write.

It made us useful as employees. The whole thing about sitting still, paying attention for hours on end and following rules at school is still a legacy of the industrial revolution and its drive to format people into functional and reliable employees.

The crazy thing is that today's school still works this way...

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real time

Communicating at a distance had been around even before the proliferation of literacy. For as long as we can remember, people would communicate over distances with smoke signals, drums or alternative visual or audible means. If you are

interested in taking an excursion into the history of telecommunications, you may enjoy this Wikipedia page.

In the mid-19th century, we eventually came up with the first real-time electronic telecommunication system, the telegraph. This was yet another evolutionary leap in our drive to remotely with others.

Our desire to communicate with each other put in motion an unprecedented leap in exponential innovation. It didn't take very long to see the arrival of the telephone. Then we invented the radio, television, satellite communications, … and onto even more powerful propaganda mediums.

Now things started to move fast...

In the 1990s, the mobile telephone and the internet made their appearance. Both breakthroughs not only became immediately irresistible but also indispensable.

How often do you deliberately leave your mobile phone at home when you leave the house? No matter how much we hate to admit it, we simply can't live without our devices.

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Communication with everyone at once


Then, the internet took the world by storm. It was the ultimate way to achieve our desire to connect with everyone, everywhere. Within a time-span of less than 2

decades, more than 3 billion people signed up for it. This is biggest and fastest human mobilisation ever!

The thing is that it has only just begun. Here's why:

In the next 5 years, we expect another 3-4 billion people to come online!

When you think about the impact of this mass-migration to the digital world, it is difficult to image the impact all those new voices and minds will have on our world.

 

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A visual virtual world

We eventually merged the Internet with the telephone so we could get even more connected. We put cameras into our devices so we could see each other. We even built apps to make it easy to sleep with each other!

If you fail to get a wifi signal, you will probably feel anxiety. No signal, no work! We have become addicted to our ability to connect. We crave our ability to influence as many people as possible. And because this is one of basic needs, to satisfy it, we just keep overriding our resistance to novelty.

When the mobile phone first appeared, many of us (myself included) had serious concerns about how these devices would invade our privacy. And although we all love to moan about our loss of security, it usually adds up to little more than a toothless protest. All our complaining is little more than an effort to pacify the realization that we are, in fact, hopeless connection junkies...

Eventually, we just forgot about privacy...well, at least most of us did.

Take a moment to think about how, in less than a decade, social media platforms have managed to convince more than 3 billion people to open up their lives for everyone to see just so they could connect with others.

No matter how much you try to make people understand the risks, people will give up their privacy as long as the technology let's them connect with others.

So the point I am trying to make here is that when technology and innovation allow us to get closer to each other, it becomes irresistible.

Our basic desires drive technology. Our to need to belong helps us overcome our first reactions of resistance to novelty.

Our relationship with technology has never been rational. It has always been driven by our need to satisfy the basic needs we are not fully aware of.

Many people find it hard to believe that humans will buy into a virtual world...

NEWSFLASH: We already live in one!