Saturday, October 21, 2017

Technology for happiness

Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby

Does technology bring happiness? This question has been the subject of a recent dialogue between myself and an eager technophile. A lover of technology and a lover of wisdom, searching for happiness. By the gods, what a pair.

The technophile's argument was based on the assumption that the reason for unhappiness is that the world does not conform to our desires. He suggested that technology can adjust the world to suit our desires, and thus bring happiness. For example, the cold of a long winter's night will make me unhappy. But this can be fixed by using the appropriate technology. To gain happiness I need to bend nature to suit my needs.

My technophile friend's argument can be summarized in this form:
P1. Because the reason for my unhappiness is that the world does not conform to my desires, if I want to be happy, I need to adjust the world to suit my desires

P2. I want to be happy

C1. Therefore, I need to adjust the world to suit my desires

P3. Technology is the means by which I adjust the world to suit my desires in order to achieve happiness

C2. Therefore, technology brings happiness
This argument is valid, but sadly my technophile friend seems to be in a most unfortunate position. To become happy, he needs to change objective reality. This, to me, seems to be a relentless undertaking. I think we can all agree that the world is imperfect. I think we can also agree that achieving perfection is a task suited only to the gods. My unfortunate friend may be able to alter small aspects of the world to provide a temporary feeling of happiness, but technological fixes don't last. Things break. Nature is unpredictable. If my friend's happiness requires that nature is bent to his will, I fear that he will never be truly happy.

Shall we take a look at the first premise in the technophile's reasoning. He believes that the reason for his unhappiness is that the world does not conform to his desires. I wonder if there is another way to look at this. Could it be that the reason for his unhappiness is his expectation that the world conforms to his desires, and yet it usually doesn't? If this is true, an easier road to happiness may be an adjustment of that expectation.

Back in Athens we believed that happiness could be achieved by conforming the soul to objective reality, as opposed to attempting to change reality to suit the soul. If my technophile friend can use wisdom and self control to adjust his desires to reality, he may find happiness more forthcoming. Of course, this is not to say that he shouldn't warm his house at night.

-- Socrates