The unprecedented rise of technology over the past two to three decades has long since been coupled with fears over its ability to threaten to derail the most fundamental aspects of what it is to be human – namely, our incredible adeptness with empathy, sentimentality and fellow feeling.
The argument goes that, as more and more digital interactions begin to replace in-person interactions – whether that is in extreme examples, such as interactions with AI replacing interactions with other humans, or simply meetings and coffee dates conducted over the web, rather than in-situ – sentimentality and genuine emotional investment will grow increasingly difficult for us.
Still, this needn’t be the case – and concerns over technology’s impact on the human psyche can just as easily (and far more convincingly) be replaced by the promise of the human psyche’s impact on technology, and its development.
There are, of course, a staggering number of ways in which we can – and do – meld our sentimental selves with technology. One need only consider the fact that our interactions with technology – whether humanistic virtual assistants, or the impassive screens of our phones and computers – are not wholly pragmatic. We create no definitive divide between the lives we lead off-screen, or away from digital devices, and the lives we lead when we are interacting solely with technological entities.
Examples are wide, varied and, in their own ways, fascinating. For one thing, we are all aware of the countless authentic and rewarding relationships that have formed between individuals who would otherwise, without technology, have likely never met. In a similar vein, the fulfilling experiences we can enjoy without ever travelling to a physical location. From virtual tours to digital theatre, runways and concerts, it is entirely possible to recreate once physical experiences, over the web.
Furthermore, when it comes to online gaming, the lucky charm we once carried with us to Las Vegas or Macau becomes the lucky charm for gambling from home, meaning that its sentimental power is not muted simply because the ways in which we interact with luck and chance have gone digital.
What’s more it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are developing emotional bonds with electronic assistants like Siri and Alexa.
In essence, the ways in which we surpass the cool, quantitative relationships we used to lead with technology are incredibly wide, varied, and open to considerable interpretation – and rampant digitalisation itself may be the answer why.
Consider the fact that, in the early days of our technologically-driven age, sentimentality via electronics was highly unlikely. Our ability to feel any link between our emotional lives and, say, a calculator was non-existent, and nothing like our ability to bond with machines that connect us with the outside world, support us through the ups and downs of each passing day, and reshape almost every aspect of our lives.
In a nutshell, while digitalisation throws traditional interactions and experiences off-kilter, our increasing familiarity with technology means that we are more capable than ever before of turning digital experiences into genuine and sentimental encounters.
Fears over a future led by robots, AI and intelligent machines have already proven themselves to be misguided, and the ways in which technology has evolved to support us offers a keen demonstration of how the future will be shaped.
Whether we look into the world of consumer electronics, and how smart devices and assistants have – and continue to be – developed to meet our needs, and to ensure that our daily lives are given stronger foundations that serve our personal and professional lives, and our health and wellbeing.
When we look at the other side of the coin, we can see that the development of specialised technologies for the world’s most significant industries are working toward the same goal. The strongest example of this lies in healthcare, wherein AI and advanced technology is being deployed in countless ways in order to improve prospects for patients, life for individuals suffering a wide range of conditions, and the doctors themselves on the frontline of care provision.
While both worlds represent entirely different enterprises, they are connected by the same two facts. For one thing, humans stand behind any technological development; while the final product is something entirely non-human, it did not appear out of thin air, but from the combined ingenuity, creativity and innovation of hundreds of developers.
For another, there is little use in technological progress that does not serve to improve life in some way, which means that there will always be scope for finding human purpose within impassive coding, plastic and metal.