January 11, 2011

Freud and technology - but without psychoanalysis

Freud considers the progress made in science and technology.  Although people should be proud of their achievements, this progress has not made people feel happier.  Human happiness depends on more than just man’s domination of nature and technological progress.  Having said this, there is some pleasure to be derived 
“if I can […] hear the voice of a child of mine who is living hundreds of miles away or if I can learn in the shortest possible time after a friend has reached his destination that he has come through the long and difficult voyage unharmed.”   
Add to this the more significant advances in medicine that save lives.

Freud counters this, however, with a pessimistic reply.   
“If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice; if traveling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him.”   
And medicine saves lives only for people to endure miserable lives.  A bleak outlook.

Without wishing to be a wet blanket, these sentiments could well apply to today’s generation (or any generation, come to think of it).  Does possessing the latest iPhone or laptop count for happiness today?  Freud’s examples strike me as a case of ‘using technology to solve a technological problem.’  Technology takes my child away and I’ll use technology to overcome that obstacle.

Sigmund Freud.  Civilization and its Discontents.  New York: Norton, 1961. Original, Vienna, 1930.

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