If you are over 40 years of age, you are part of the generation that remembers life without cell phones and computers and suddenly experienced the exponential growth of the digital age. We are a unique group in history. We are digital immigrants. Our children who have grown up with technology are unique as well. They are the first generation of digital natives. So let’s look back for a moment and ask ourselves, what is the point of technology? Does it make us smarter? Do we have a better way of life? Do we have a brighter future? Are we becoming more capable? Is the World a better place for our children and grandchildren?
It is interesting to consider as we lay the fundamental human needs across this landscape of change where this “information age” fits in. For this discussion let’s use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. Keep in mind this is a hierarchy of needs so the theory is you have to satisfy the first need then move to the next.
- Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
We can certainly argue that technology has provided us with ways to improve our quality of life. Ways for energy to be produced, transportation vehicles with less impact on the air we breathe. Certainly we can see that modern production of food and water purification has progressed with technology. From desalinization plants turning sea water into fresh water to sensors in crop field streaming data measuring moisture and soil composition for better crop treatment and production, technology is moving us forward on our increasing Global demands.
The architectural tools for designing dwellings and the manufacturing of materials have evolved with technology. Some would argue that the evolution of pharmaceuticals have extended the sex drive and helped us with sleep apnea among other physiological needs. So let’s give technology thumbs up for getting us to need number two.
- Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
Technology leaps into number two with a host of advancements. The integration of so many devices and instruments has provided us with early warning systems protecting us from natural disasters and preparing us for potential threats. Now here is where I see the first chink in the armor in defending technology. Are we more secure, is there more order, stability and freedom from fear? Technology has introduced a new threat, one that includes a reckless amount of information and disinformation. This alone has introduced so many to a World that once was mystical and now has become in part maniacal. Religions are clashing, economies are interdependent and cultures are misunderstood. This lack of understanding the deluge of information and disinformation has created a new form of fear for many that did not exist prior to the information age. It is a fragile balance and we see an interesting counterpoint.
The digital natives are becoming less threatened as they are able to decipher the information from disinformation. Propaganda is no longer the powerful tool it once was and we are seeing the World becoming a smaller place with the new generations finding common ground and communicating with unprecedented freedom. The gamers are interacting and becoming teammates from opposite ends of the globe. Entertainment is universal and global. Ideologies are challenged and the youth is becoming savvier to what is really happening. We are also seeing self policing in peer groups through social media. Even the bullies are being called out and held accountable. There is no sneaking around anymore, therefore; a new level of accountability is being bred that may ultimately make the World a safer place.
- Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
I don’t want to go on a rant here but when I go to dinner with people and see all of them on the phone texting other people I want to go Godzilla on them and send out my own personal EMP. It makes me feel as invisible as Gandhi at a Jihad dinner. Technology as an asset breaks down for me when we don’t have to make plans and show up to meet somewhere and trust they will be there. We can just track friends on GPS and stay loose until the spontaneous moment we all hook up. Intimacy, affection and love are misrepresented and compromised with the abundant saturation of porn.
Our communication is through texts, emails and the occasional phone call. Technology feels like the deflation of intimacy at all levels for the digital immigrant who once knew the world of relationships before cell phones and the internet. The digital natives are struggling with this as they are the first generation dealing with all of these technologies at once. The first iphone was introduced in 2007 and Facebook is not much older. Now with twitter, snapchat, pinterest,etc. these kids live their lives on a stage for all to see. Every conversation and argument can be shared. One public mistake can ruin your social status. It is terrifying enough for the kids to maintain superficial relationships. The percentage of kids “going steady” has been reduced to a fraction of what we saw in previous generations. This whole thing is evolving and defining itself as we speak.
- Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others.
Technology has produced a new way of interacting in education, the work force and society as a whole. We don’t have to memorize information because anything we need to know is immediately available; we must know how to use information to accomplish a certain outcome. There isn’t the value or prestige of knowing how to do home repair when you can watch a 3 minute youtube video and go get some tools at home depot. So for many, the esteem needs will have to be redefined by the presence of technology. This too will evolve with the new landscape and each person must find their identity in the new age both personally and professionally.
- Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
I don’t think technology has anything to do with self-actualization. No matter how much we advance, the act of realizing one’s potential is driven from within. As we look at what really matters in life and what defines us and satisfies us I don’t see a substitute for leaving a legacy and for that we need a soul, desire and an audience.
As I look at technology and the way it lays across Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it makes me think that the future is bright for our children and grandchildren. As technology helps solve the fundamental problems of scarcity for the human race in food, water energy and healthcare, we are free to focus on the next great advancement. Our need for intimacy, love for others, feelings of accomplishment and purpose. When technology steals those needs from us we will rebel. I have faith in the human condition and the need to redefine where and when we decide to turn it off. I believe the next great advancement will be the modern sanctuary that each person can escape to with only the interaction with each other. No technology at all. My children call that being grounded.