Written By Sherwood Kohn
Artists, philosophers, sociologists and others have long been concerned that society is increasingly becoming dehumanized.
From the 1927 Fritz Lang movie, “Metropolis,” through Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” to the contemporary “Transformer” movies, we have had ample warning of the problem.
Then, as if we needed evidence of the effects of dehumanization, there is slavery, the Holocaust, the internment of the Nisei during World War II and the revelations of Abu Ghraib, all proving that it is easier to kill, torture or imprison someone when you believe they are less than human; when you feel no empathy toward them.
There is also ample evidence that mankind is highly susceptible to a lack of empathy, and that much of humanity has not evolved far or fast enough to cope with its technology.
Technology itself does not cause dehumanization. But it can help. One only has to watch a couple of teenagers texting each other across a McDonald’s table to worry that they have become devoid of human contact, or that the social network is anything but.
The recent disgrace of Congressman Anthony Weiner is an example of narcissism aided and abetted by technology, and also, perhaps, evidence of dehumanization enabled by the detachment of the Internet. I am reminded of a sequence from Woody Allen’s 1973 sci fi satire in which his shlemiel character, who has been transported to the future, emerges frazzled from an “Orgasmatron” following a mechanically induced sexual experience.
The appropriate reaction is not to blindly destroy technology, as the Luddites tried to do in 19th Century England. One hopes that when people get tired of the novelty of being able to tell friends and acquaintances on a minute-by-minute basis about the trivialities of their daily existences, things will settle down and technology will return to its proper place in society: enhancing the lives of people.
Until then, I suppose, we will have to endure such offenses as people gabbing everywhere, intrusively, on their cell phones; kids absorbed so thoroughly by their computer games that they lose all touch with the real world; viruses and hordes of spam on our computers; incomprehensible instructions, written by illiterate geeks, for every conceivable type of electronic gadget, and seemingly endless digitally created or enhanced movies featuring explosions, crashes, and nasty extraterrestrial robots crushing humanity.
Artists are usually sensitive to societal currents. It might pay to listen to their warnings. But they are often so far ahead that few regular people pay attention. You can counter the phenomenon. Carroll County and its environs offer many opportunities. Go to exhibits, listen to concerts, attend plays, see serious films, read books, volunteer, actually talk to people. That will put you in touch with your humanity. And who knows? You might stave off dehumanization. Or global warming.