The Basic Problem of Technology

The time has come to accentuate the non-technical aspects of personal relationships. Such a renewed demeanor will come to our rescue when our technology fails, is misused, is being ‘updated,’ or when a person wants to relate to us verbally what they do not want to put on a form or into a computer information system, as is often the case in health care.

Why do we need to re-accentuate the non-technical aspects of personal relationships?If we look back a little more than 150 years, in the year 1854, Henry David Thoreau cautioned us against becoming dependent upon ‘things’ that were not in any way necessary for promoting a better way of life or happiness. He was responding to a sentiment born of the Industrial Revolution that an accumulation of ‘things’ would enhance personal achievement and happiness as opposed to a kind of spiritual, moral, or ethical motivation. Among these ‘things’ are what we call our technologies. Thoreau’s message has gone essentially unheeded and we continue to strive for technological excellence in response to many of our problems instead of a more personal solution with spiritual, moral, or ethical undertones.

With respect to our world of computing, one of our most familiar artifacts of technology, almost every day we experience the annoyance of updating or implementing new versions of our computer systems because the original was not thought out properly and/or needs to get to market. Most importantly these technological wonders that surround us have in some ways disenfranchised us; preventing us from enjoying an amenable way of relating to other human beings. We call this amenable way of relating to other human beings a humanistic way of being in the world – engendered by a respect for each unique individual’s personal identity and dignity, confounded by his or her histories, cultures, ethnicity, environments, and values and beliefs.

Technology has at least three problems that effect our every day lives:

First, technology in all its forms, has no personality. That is it demonstrates none of the qualities of ‘person’ or any of its cognates, e.g., wisdom, compassion, happiness, sadness, love, hate, and etc. Technology doesn’t even have any of the attributes that may fool one into thinking it was a person. We sometimes confuse ourselves and others by trying to assign some of these human qualities to our familiar technologies and forget that our technological implementations are merely reflections of our imagination or innovation and are ‘tools’ invented to make our activities more pleasant, effective and efficient.
It follows from the above that technology is not personal and/or private. That is, the technical modalities that are part of our every-day activities do not have any capacity to relate to us and respect the uniqueness of persons using or being used by it.

Second, not only is there not any inherent respect for the humanistic attitude in our techno-worship worldview but every day we hear of some major system being ‘hacked’ into and revealing all sorts of personal and identity information that we consider as private. Possibly you have been a victim of such an intrusion and certainly you fear every time you open an email, click on a link, or an attached file, or one of your children logs on to the internet or a social network, that you are open to an invasion of privacy.

The issue of failed security has become one of the major concerns of governments, companies, and individuals who do not seem to be able to offer an effective remedy to the problem. What we are primarily concerned with here is the extent to which these security breaches affect us as individuals existing in a humanistic way of being in the world.

Third, the untimely failures of our technological modalities including failures of equipment and failures of processes. These are experienced in times of use in the middle of a procedure or in times of so called ‘updates.’ These failures are so common that surely everyone reading this article can provide some examples. These failures and other issues related to technology elaborated upon in, “Technicity in Nursing and the Dispensation of Thinking,” (Kleiman and Kleiman).

In order to mitigate some of the effects of the foregoing discussion Dr. Susan Kleiman offers a workshop entitled ‘Humanistic Nursing Inquiry in a technological worldview.’ For more information on the workshops in New York City or at your site call: 631-656-3301 or email:

Kleiman, S., Kleiman, A. (2007). Technicity in Nursing and the Dispensation of Thinking. Nursing Economic$.25, 3

Thoreau, H. (1985). Prose works: A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers;
Walden, or, Life in the Woods; The Maine woods. New York: Literary Classics of the United States.

Copyright © 2013 Susan Kleiman All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint by Dr. Kleiman April 23, 2013.

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