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We live in an age of technology, and everyday we interface with technology more and more. In fact, many of us interface more with technology than we do with people. We engage in online chats, comments, feedback, emails, texting, computer games, movies, cable, television – the list is endless. We live in a mediated space that is corporate owned. Ostensibly, we are wired into this digital space for our benefit, to allow us to connect with our fellow human beings more efficiently and effectively. But is something lost in the process? Are we becoming different as human beings as a result?

I will argue we are changing, and that interfacing with so many machines and computers is molding us in their image. The values of these technical devices are beginning to trump human values. We tend to value speed, efficiency, accuracy, promptness, and utility over patience, generosity, and empathy. Rather than machines serving mankind, we wind up serving the machines instead, or changing our behavior and ethics to suit their reality. As a result, we admire the latest iPad more than the greatest acts of altruism.

Our country’s recent financial struggles highlight this new digital morality. Rather than being guided by ‘the golden rule’ where we should ‘do unto others as we would have them do unto us’, many of our financial institutions and other businesses take another, more self-serving tack. The credo becomes instead ‘do whatever is legally allowed and that provides the company the greatest benefit/profit’. Computers, designed for efficiency, are implicitly guided by this same morality; the computer’s task, ‘business rules’ and workflow take precedence over a broader question of the impact of that task on the wider world. The narrow, legalistic, rule-based and specialized world of the computer becomes the moral space not only of our businesses, but our lives. Lacking a more holistic view, we are concerned for our narrow, specialized lives and their narrow, specialized concerns. Our morning routines mimic the work flows and processes we strive to perfect at work. We settle into these routines as if to protect us and shield us from something, and become as numb as the machines that do not feel or think about their particular objective. They simply perform the routine, fulfill the task, and repeat.

When we judge, we judge harshly. Software, which will ‘crash’ based on a single typo in a computer program, becomes the emblem of our judgment of others. The recent fall from grace of Representative Weiner is one example. It was a ‘typo’ in a text message that ‘caused the chain of events’ that led to his fall. As such, single failures tend to prove disastrous for otherwise good people. While Representative Weiner may deserve his fall from grace, we take this same kind of morality too far when we judge people based on a single action out of context and do not look at the wider picture. We don’t ask: ‘who is the judge’? Instead, we assume there is some pervasive, mass morality where everyone uniformly dislikes certain behavior and avoids that behavior with puritanical zeal. Is this really the case? I am doubtful. We will find instead that we are all flawed, and none can cast the first stone.

Again, we view people’s actions as software – where the single flaw causes the whole system to crash. But people are not software, and shouldn’t be judged as such. Our jails are filled with people who probably would be better off in rehabilitation, being forgiven and re-integrated into society rather than judged for ‘flaws’ that are as much the result of systemic, societal problems as their own doing.

The machine or computer task, isolated and specialized, becomes the human being, isolated and responsible for their actions, and devoid of context – all while plugged into their digital space. The infallible ‘perfect’ ones who do not fall into the trap of ‘error’ can judge those that commit crimes and are jailed when truth be told, a more humane approach would work better over the longer haul. And this attitude reaches much wider than the criminal and deep into our personal lives. Often these ‘perfect’ ones are not the most empathetic, but the ones with the best credit scores, whose efficiency at paying their bills makes them somehow ‘better’ than the ‘failures’ who have, perhaps due to illness or other misfortunes, allowed their credit ratings to lapse.

We live in rows of houses where neighbors more often than not do not communicate. The suburb becomes not so much a community as a compartmentalized, specialized human chicken coops. With many of these houses financially underwater, the people in them feel more trapped than ever. Terrified of losing their credit rating, they keep on plugging away at the routines of their lives, hoping their will be an exit and praying they don’t fall ill or lose their job.

Our children often interface more with computer games then with other children. The values of these games are of domination, control, and aggression. Cooperation, empathy, and collaboration are the furthest values in mind to the creators of video games. Our children, immersed in a ‘squash the bug’ mentality, take this morality out into the wider world. The answer to all problems is to ‘kill the enemy’ – fix the problem by eliminating the dehumanized ‘other’ who is at the heart of our unhappiness.

Am I being to harsh? I am certainly emphasizing the problems over and above the reality, which is much more diverse and balanced than what I portray here. But I do this to make a point, and I hope you see that the trends I’m pointing out are very real and very much leading us toward a society that could, within a hundred years, be completely unrecognizable as human culture.

Do we want a future of hybrid robot-humans? That is where we are heading. If we want to stop these trends, the only answer to this may not be more and more machine values with their digital morality. The answer may be to rediscover our humanity.

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