Technology Is Destroying Our Inner Lives

by Carol Becker – January 20, 2016


Two years ago, I started using the Kindle app on my iPad to read those big heavy biographies and novels that I had been lugging around the world. I still wasn’t using it to read books I might reference in my writing, but nonetheless I was glad to discover, by chance, the underline function. While immersed in Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness, underlining as I read, I was completely unnerved when a message popped up to announce: “You are the 123rd user to underline this same passage.”

Shocked by this intrusion, I threw the iPad onto the bed and nearly out the window. A sickening feeling came over me. Then I became afraid. Someone was reading over my shoulder. Not a person, but a Program, calculating what I found most important in the text. Was I supposed to feel validated (or banal) to learn that a passage I noted many others also liked? Or was this data only for some marketing strategy?

The idea of surveillance, in the abstract, has not bothered me as much as it perhaps should. I have acclimated to the notion that everything we do is findable, knowable and marketable—forever—except, I believed, our deepest thoughts, which is why the intrusion on my contemplative reading affected me so profoundly. Reading is my refuge from the world, and now it too had been invaded.

A 2011 article I read recently conjectured that, in the past, we were “private by default and public by effort.” At one time it was difficult to get information about other people and just as difficult to put information about ourselves out into the world. Now, we are public by default and private by effort. But how much exertion does it take to keep a sense of inviolability?

We can be found most anywhere in the world at any time, through our own devices (pun intended). The intrusion is ubiquitous and omnivorous.

Most of us are addicted to these systems of connection. That’s what humans do: we get addicted to the things we create. People expect an answer, and they expect it now. At times the ability to work depends on this immediate access. We have internalized these time/space obligations and don’t know how to step away from them. If we do not make a Herculean effort to remain balanced within this imbalance, we feel fragmented and often unhappy.

What would it mean if the species were to completely lose the need and/or desire for privacy, solitude, time and focused attention? What if we were the last humans to be bothered by intrusions into our privacy? What would it feel like if our species evolved out of the need for an inner life?

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