16. Reflections on Technology: Social Problems

I noted that the problem of spending leisure time could become very serious when technology disengages our attention and energies from exertions for the satisfaction of our basic needs.  If healthy and appropriate alternative channels are not taken advantage of, other kinds of difficulties might arise.

Whether this is a major factor contributing to social confusions or not, the fact remains that many social and psychological problems have arisen in techno­logically advanced societies, and there seems to be a steady increase in the variety and frequency of their occurrence.  Let us consider a few.

Crimes are nothing new in human societies.  Assault and theft, murder and rape, are as ancient as civilization/ Every religion and moral injunction has threats and  punishments associated with moral transgressions.  Generally speaking, in former times, most petty thefts were provoked by dire needs.  Pilferers and thieves often made away with things to satisfy their own physical hunger or that of their families.  Murder and assault were often caused by passion or vendetta.  The crime of rape was generally related to circumstantial opportunities, and punishment for this crime has ranged from mild to very se­vere:  from fines and marriage to the victim (if she was unmarried) to castration and blinding of the eyes.

Statistics released by police bureaus show that crimes of all kinds have been steadily increasing in number all over the world.  In some instances they are committed simply for the thrill of the experience.  Young people from economically comfortable families have been caught in unlawful and destructive acts for no reason but the excitement of doing something wrong, illustrating the misuse of leisure time.  Then again, technical possibilities for crimes have increased consider­ably.  Fast moving get-away cars, silent pistols, high explosives for terrorist at­tacks, cell phones and internet among co-criminals, easy transportation to foreign count­ries, computer embezzlement:  all these technological possibilities have facilitated a great many crimes.

Some have argued that the lurid expo­sure of the female body in advertisements, movies, pornographic magazines, and on the internet provoke sexual assaults. Associated with the public sexual provocations that are the hallmark of modern societies is a heightened degree of promiscuous sexual activity.  Without mak­ing any moral judgment it may still be pointed out that as a result of this the incidence of venereal diseases and AIDS has increased steadily.  Advances in medicine are fortunately alleviating the discomfort and suffering from such diseases.

Another social problem is alcoholism.  The consumption for feast and festivity, as well as the devastating abuse of alcohol are also as ancient as civilization.  But in recent years, the social charms and palatal pleasures of spirits and wines have often degenerated into sad spectacles of serious addiction, drunken driving, and family fights.  Every statistic  indicates that more and more people are drinking more and more, and it is a pathetic sight when immature youngsters recount their experiences and share their wisdom on the problem of ju­venile alcoholism.

Alcoholism is only one instance of a variety of drug addictions from which modern societies suffer.  Once again, this is not an entirely new phenomenon in hu­man culture.  Puffing and sniffing for soaring into hallucinatory heights is an age-old thrill, often indulged in with religious fervor or simply for fighting boredom.  But somehow such experimentations with our consciousness tend to become risky and self-destructive in the context of modern life.  Marijuana and opium could very well be innocuous intakes in a carefree existence in a remote somnolent village with little responsibility and no machines and motors to manipulate.  But in a complex techno­logical society, where our behavior affects others, and every accident prompts alert responses from everybody around to relieve the pain or save the life of a victim, such indulgences cost money and effort.  This, rather than any system of ethics, is the reason why heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and the rest of the addictive kicks are to be listed among society’s problems.

Another social ill which is on the rise in technological societies is the divorce rate.  We may not be sure if, as the adage says, marriages are made in heaven.  But we do know that they can sometimes lead to hell, and divorce is probably the best reme­dy.  Hence its practice in all societies.  But here again, the number of marriages that break up in this way have been increasing over the past few decades.  In the U.S., for example, only 35 out of every 1000 marriages ended in a divorce in 1960.  By 1970 this number shot up to 41 out of 1000.  And by the end of the decade, it was more than 90 out of 1000.  It has only been growing worse since. The adaptability of humans to painful circumstances is well illustrated in this matter.  For, we are now in a stage where divorce is no longer considered to be unpleasant.  Its very commonality has made it acceptable, even desi­rable in instances where, previously, efforts would have been made to resolve the severing problems.  Perhaps the only serious argument against divorce in many de­serving cases would be the potential impact on children that may be involved.  It is in this sense that we call it a social problem.

One may add to this list other items, such as suicide rates, loneliness, psychological ailments, alienation from one’s family, etc.  Social scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, com­munity leaders, governments, all have been concerned with the unpleasant impacts of these problems, and are constantly searching for solutions.

October 2, 1010

Published by:

Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.

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