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The Morality Lag: Smartphones and Dumb Feelings

September 13, 2013

 

 

Your smartphone has more computing power than the computer that took Neil Armstrong and crew to the moon. And this is only one of the staggering technological advancements we've made in the last 50 years.

 

Have you ever wondered why technological advancements, a byproduct of the analytical brain, have far outrun our ability to create any kind of significant improvements in our emotional governance? Wars, murder, and mayhem have gone unabated for thousands of years, and yet this week Apple announced the introduction of a new iPhone with fingerprint recognition.

 

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Mark Twain said something along the lines that any newspaper publisher, regardless of the era, could always bank on headlines like "Trouble in the Middle East" and "Revolution in South America". Twain was uncanny about the consistency of humanity's inability to live and let live.

 

So why have our emotional brains hit a roadblock? Why haven't we wiped out jealously, avarice and greed the way we knocked out polio? More importantly, when can we expect the next big upgrade to the emotional brain?

 

Sadly, not any day soon.  The brain's emotional decision-making powers have their roots firmly entwined in our most primitive survival instincts. There is a reason why neuroscientists refer to this part of the brain as our reptilian brain: we share this subcortical structure with the creatures found in the Florida Everglades. The drive to survive trumps just about every other kind of judgment, including the moral ones.

 

Individually, some may attain enlightenment, but it's not exactly a product that can be monetized like Tang. And so collectively, we have a certain amount of cognitive dissonance about the way emotions wreak havoc on our everyday lives.

 

It feels much better for us to share in, and highlight technological advancements. Take for example the second sentence in this post:"And this is only one of the staggering technological advancements we've made in the last 50 years." I don't know about you, but I didn't have much to do with the creation of the smartphone.

 

Technological advancements are built on the backs of the very special few. Although we all enjoy the latest creations that come in the form of cameras that are phones or phones that are cameras, who among the unwashed masses is capable of developing the next great innovation?

 

Let's face it, most of us are essentially still cave people. We may wear nicer clothes, but if a cataclysmic event rendered electricity, and therefore our microwave ovens, useless, we'd pay to have one of our ancient relatives from the Chauvet Cave in Southern France explain how to start a fire without propane or matches.

 

A handful of impressive achievements have altered the way we live our lives, but they haven't fundamentally altered who we are. We are the same people who engaged in war over territory and treasure since recorded time. Our weapons may have improved, but our intentions haven't.

 

It's easy to conflate technological leaps with some improvement in human pathos. They have a connection, but by no means are they the same thing.

 

We often give ourselves credit for having evolved far more than we actually have. It's theorized that our current brain system have been around for roughly 40,000 years, apparently without fundamental change.

 

 Like the saying goes, "Same story, different day."

 

One can confirm this by simply gazing at the next heartbreaking newspaper headline.

 

After all, it's just one click away on your new smartphone.

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