The whole nature of human abilities, human skills is gradually being transformed as a result of modern technology. Three different kinds of transformation seem to be occurring. First of all, some kinds of abilities are being totally eliminated or almost totally eliminated. In particular, many of the gross motor skills that are involved with traditional primary experience tasks. Few people use a blacksmith very much anymore, because nowadays people drive cars. For the same reason, one doesn’t see a lot of carriage makers.
Second, there is a trivialization of the importance of a lot of skills. A musician who performs live now has to compete not only with the records, cassettes and compact discs of the recent past, but now with YouTube. Yes, I know some artists have made a lot of money from their recordings. But now their recordings get put on YouTube or Spotify or Pandora, where, even in the best of circumstances, they usually make very little money. So, unless these artists are fortunate enough to put together good concert tours and become very popular, they are cooked. Certainly, the days of supper clubs and commercial musical coffee houses seem to be over.
Then there is the diminishing of the need for many skills. Without totally erasing factory jobs, 3D printers have the potential to make many of them seem downright archaic. The frictionless mediated construction skills of these printers are incredible. Why should a fabricator or builder put in so much effort with workers when, given the existence of these machines, it is so much more economical to use them.
And artificial intelligence is in the process of diminishing the need for so many white-collar jobs. Many jobs in business administration can easily be handled by machines that are becoming increasingly complicated and sophisticated, as the technological revolution continues to move on. The same goes for many jobs in medicine. The intrusion of machines and robots in the performance of surgeries is only increasing as time goes on
And many jobs in service industries can increasingly be handled by robots. Delivery people, hotel receptionists, and waitstaff can all be replaced and will increasingly be replaced by robots. Why pay people who can get injured or pregnant and have to take time off from work? It’s much less likely that robots will need to take time off for health reasons.
The presence of human skills in daily life implies the exertion of effort through friction-filled activity in order for humans to be able to make and preserve organic imprints on their fields of experience. And these skills have developed in order to satisfy different basic needs humans have in order to survive and thrive. But what is the point of maintaining a human skill active, if modern technology can find a way of performing the task for which the skill is used in such a way that it can be done in a frictionless mediated way, an effortless and safe way? The whole push of modern technology is to obviate the need of people to expend intense and exhausting efforts and also to protect them from harm. The fact that humans are being pushed out of the whole flow of human endeavor seems to be pushed aside by most modern humans. That’s right. And the easiness of modern life for many of those who are still involved in it has led to what I have named in other articles as conative anesthesia: the numbing of the will. The cumulative effect of all these laborsaving tendencies in modern human life is a growing lack of resolve to assert oneself in any meaningful human projects and activities. When machines start performing more and more human tasks practically every day to the exclusion of human effort, humans experience a numbness from being so extremely unemployed. They sink into a deep experiential vacuum.
But the important thing to realize is that it is a numbness of which people are not consciously aware. Why should people complain when the laborsaving aspect of modern technology is making life so easy. People can, as it were, luxuriate in the service aspects of this technology in the way that monarchs and nobility used to luxuriate in the use of all their servants in their lives within their authoritarian societies in preindustrial times. And modern psychological numbness is a very subtle state of mind that is not easy to pick up on unless a person is aware of its existence and knows what to look for. It’s not like joy or anger or exhaustion all of which are solid mental entities and leave solid imprints on the mind.
This is why I have spent so much time and space in my column talking about numbness. It is so amorphous and stealthy as it gradually creeps into our minds and kills the vibrancy of our lives. It can destroy the need for our skills and the effort we put into them to carry them out in order to make and preserve our imprints and create meaningful life narratives. Numbness can, in effect, destroy the reason for our being.