Is technology corrupting humanity? History says no.

Build up, tear down—new technology stirs up a cycle of progress and cynicism we've seen all throughout history.

Elad Gil: So one of the things that worries me the most in the technology world today is the degree to which the external world has viewed technology with more and more cynicism and the degree to which there's a little bit of a backlash starting. And I think that there's a few drivers for that here. I think the recent elections is sort of one example where people feel they were manipulated I should say by third parties abusing technology. And I think separate from that there's also just these sort of media waves where media tends to go in cycles where the press will build something up and then tear it down and then build something up and tear it down. And I think technology was really built up in the media for a 20-year period or so, and now it's sort of a time of reckoning to some extent.

I think that's very unfortunate because I believe that optimism is a reflexive asset in sort of the George Soros' view of the world where something that people give value to gains value by that belief in the value of that thing. And if you actually look at the major changes that have happened in the world it's because people have been extremely optimistic in ways that some folks thought was irrational, but that optimism allowed them to actually accomplish that giant goal.

I mean think of putting somebody on the moon and what we were able to accomplish in the '60s, or think about a variety of other examples like that the Manhattan Project or major breakthroughs have all sort of come through an enormous sense of optimism and "we can do this." Manifest destiny and sort of the development of the United States as a country is a good example of that on the sort of country and governance level.
And so one thing that I've seen more and more increasingly is an increase in cynicism and people being made fun of. The first thing they want to change the world and they're genuine about it and I think that's a very big negative. And so one of the things that I've been thinking a lot about recently is: how can you actually increase societal optimism?
What are the mechanisms by which people can become more enthusiastic about their future and more enthusiastic about technology? Because if you look at the changes that technology has rote over the last 20/30 years it literally has lifted tens or hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. It has created access to global markets and it has created access to global information. Everybody is walking around with literally a super computer in their pocket that gives them access to the sum of all of humanity's knowledge with maybe the exception of the scientific journals, which are still blind. So I do think that people should be incredibly optimistic about the future and one thing I wonder about is how can you help spread that optimism? Because I think if people believe they can do something they often achieve things that they never thought was possible.

So, a lot of people have recently had a lot of very cogent concerns around the rise of misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms and how that impacted our last election. And I think those are very legitimate concerns and I think some of the platforms have made pretty major mistakes in terms of how they've approached some of those things. It's interesting though, because if you look at it over the arc of history this is not a new story. Every time that there's a new technology, particularly around media, there's a set of outcries around how that media is corrupting culture or how it's destroying certain aspects of our life, and in some cases those are real concerns. There's a great book from Tom Standage about the early telegraph in the 1800s called The Victorian Internet and he basically makes the argument that a lot of the behavior that exists online today was being done by telegraph operators in the 1800s because they were just sitting on these lines talking with each other over Morse Code, and they would gossip and they would trade recipes and they would date, but also it was a way for news to spread quickly. And a lot of people argued that it was a downfall of a variety of things. It could be the downfall of markets because suddenly markets were more efficient or it could impact religion or other things. And then we had radio. Actually before radio we had to newspapers in the early 1900s, and there was the wave of yellow journalism, there's a Spanish American War that was caused by a new form of media. And then we had a radio, and radio was "corrupting youth" by spreading rock 'n' roll and sin and all sorts of bad things. And then we had TV, which was turning everybody into vegetables. And then we had video games, which was turning all of our children into killers. And now we have social media as the next new media platform, and Instagram is destroying our youth. And I think that fact about Instagram is true—I'm joking about that. But in the broader context if you think about it every time we have a new form of media we make the argument that that form of media is the thing that's going to destroy our society, that's correcting our politics, that's corrupting our children, that's destroying our ability to think for ourselves and every time society has turned out okay. Now that doesn't mean that social media platforms shouldn't be reacting or shouldn't be addressing these issues, I'm just saying if you look at it through the larger lens of history this is not a new story.

  • "Every time that there's a new technology, particularly around media, there's a set of outcries around how that media is corrupting culture or how it's destroying certain aspects of our life," says entrepreneur and author Elad Gil.
  • In some cases there are real concerns, but taking a historical view can quell unnecessary panic. Progress and cynicism work in a cyclical fashion. New tech is unveiled, the media builds it up, then the media tears it down in a wave of backlash.
  • Today we worry about kids and smartphones; 80 years ago we worried about kids and the radio; same cynicism, different day.
  • Technology lifts the lid on human potential and quality of life, says Gil. We should be duly cautious, but optimism is more valuable (and arguably more rational) than pessimism.

Scientists find a horrible new way cocaine can damage your brain

Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.