Technology And Happiness

By: Archmage

Brian Westgate

November 1st, 2002

Technology and Happiness

Science has given us amazing things! We have hospitals, alarm systems, computers, and much more because of our technological advances. Medical technologies are curing our bodies from long-term physical handicaps and deadly illnesses. Police are patrolling our cities so our homes, possessions, and lives can be safe at night. The remarkable discovery of the personal computer and Internet has made an enormous leap in everyone’s ability to communicate with others. Is this not amazing? Does this not make one thrilled at technology today, with all the improvements it has made to our lives? The advancements we have made because of science and technology are indeed remarkable, but do they really benefit the individual? Is a single common person, surrounded by this technology, emotionally happier because of that technology?

We have people who are happy with their lives, and we have people who are unhappy with their lives. This has always been true. Certainly people who died before the computer era were not depressed because Microsoft Windows was not invented to help manage their lives. People in the past had the same emotions we have today. Primitive people did not have much technology to begin with. As humans advanced, we invent more technology. Where is the boost in the emotional quality of our lives? We can be just as happy without our technologies. Technology does nothing to improve the emotional quality of life.

There are a large variety of necessities to happiness. These are things such as health, security, interconnection, fairness/wealth, accomplishment, and many more. Let us only be concerned with the first three mentioned. The first is health. Health is something we all need to look after. This is mostly instinctual. Without bodies, what interaction do we have in the wonderful world around us? A second necessity to our happiness is security. If we do not have security, how can we be content and worry-free about ourselves as well as our possessions that please us? Interconnection is our third factor of happiness. Humans are social beings; we need to communicate with one another in order to be happy. We have languages developed for this need, and we tend to get lonely without a friend, family, or significant other. Let us examine each of our three factors and discuss the happiness it was supposed to bring us and why it is not accomplishing this.

If we are not healthy, how can we be happy? "Widespread vaccinations have practically eradicated many illnesses, at least in western Europe and the United States. The use of chemotherapy, especially in antibiotics, has contributed to an ever-decreasing number of fatalities in infectious diseases" (Kübler-Ross, 296). This quote from Kübler-Ross shows that we have significant knowledge of medical sciences. It is comforting to people to know that they can be “fixed” or “repaired” from nearly anything they do to their bodies. Though there are concerns such as AIDS, paralysis, and other diseases or malfunctions, these will disappear (and new ones appear) as more stem-cell research is done and better understating of AIDs comes. However, all of our medical technological fixes have drawbacks.

Kübler-Ross tells us that "the more we are making advancements in science, the more we seem to fear and deny the reality of death" (300). This is a major issue caused by medical technology itself. Another drawback is that with every repair or modification done to our bodies there tends to be unwanted and sometimes unexplained side effects. A third drawback that may come to mind is that people are over-confident that our medical technologies can cure anything. People hardly care for their bodies anymore because of this. They think that if anything happens to them, the doctors will fix it. Once the doctor walks back into the room shaking his head with only bad news, things are looked at differently.

Technology has given us security, our second factor of happiness, in our homes and in our counties. In modern homes, highly sophisticated alarm systems are installed and will automatically call the police when the house is broken into. Most cars manufactured today have a car alarm and anti-theft system installed. Policemen use top-of-the-line technology in their firearms, automobiles, and radios to keep our streets safe at night. Not only has individual security increased, but also with the frightening power of nuclear warheads, countries are far more hesitant to take major action against another country. Now they instead keep to their threats and bluffs instead of taking action. This follows Alvin M. Weinberg’s logic, though out-dated: “One cannot deny that the Soviet leaders now recognize the force of the H-bombs, and that this has surely contributed to the less militant attitude of the USSR" (74).

Let us address the local security technological fixes. Do these alarm systems in our homes and cars work? When a person walks by a car with its alarm blaring, keeping the entire neighborhood awake, does he or she call the police? If we have technology to keep our homes safe, we have technology to override or shut down the alarm system we put on it. Not even our streets are safe because the same equipment used by our police is available on the black market. Personal guns that are meant for security are now used for shootings. Our countries are not safe as well. Terrorists are trying, and probably succeeding, at obtaining the same weapons of mass destruction first-world countries have. Aside from terrorism, what will happen if a country is not in fact bluffing but carries through with a nuclear assault? This is a very large, real fear people have today on top of fears of being attacked personally. Surely our “technological fixes” have only turned security matters far worse than they were before. How are we happier if we are less secure?

Our third factor of happiness is interconnection. Good interconnection has made some of these new scientific discoveries possible. Not only can an ordinary person communicate with someone in real-time across the globe, but scientists can as well. They can collaborate with each other and knowledge can be unified quickly clearing out any old, outdated information and replacing it with freshly discovered knowledge. The Internet can very well be a personal tool; it can be seen as a massive library of knowledge and opinions. This collection is the perfect place to satisfy one’s interests. Jay David Bolder supports this with, "The computer can in fact provide a quiet place for readers and writers to pursue such interests, relatively secure from the noise of what remains of shared cultural elements" (219).

What are the harmful side effects of the Internet? There are a number of people who are becoming less active in the “real world” and more active in the “virtual world.” The Internet is, in fact, a useful resource. But it is also addictive and can be abused. When people get obsessed with it, their social life is fed through the computer and they do not know how to behave with their bodies around others in reality. These “computer nerds” lack social skills, people skills, and overall communication skills. Large companies that are critical to supply our basic human needs (such as food, water, and shelter) are becoming more reliant on the computer as well because of its high-power computation to manage their massive databases. What will happen if those computers suddenly stopped working? Why was the Y2K bug such a threat to our society? All it takes for every networked computer to crash is one sophisticated computer virus, or even an unforeseen error in the majority of our systems.

If the drawbacks of technological fixes were ignored or never existed, then society would be happier. Unfortunately, the drawbacks are very real, cannot be ignored, and will not be effectively solved with another technological fix. Nancy R. MacKenzie notes one of the largest drawbacks, and the one I will conclude with, to almost every technological fix: “what I never dreamed of yesterday, I can’t do without today. Invention often seems to be the mother of necessity, not vice versa” (275). In this world that we call reality, there are pros and cons to everything done. Overall, it seems whenever a pro exists to a technological fix, a new con is found sooner or later. The stronger the pro, the stronger or higher quantity of cons there are. There is a balance here that resists technology having an impact on our emotional lives. Thus, we are not happier with our technological fixes.

Works Cited

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. "On the Fear of Death." Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995. 295-301

Weinberg, Alvin M. "Can Technology Replace Social Engineering?" Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995. 71-78

Bolter, Jay David. "The Network Culture." Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995. 212-219

Brown, George E. Jr. "Technology's Dark Side." Science and Technology Today. Ed. Nancy R. MacKenzie. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995. 274-278


I would like to thank Dr. J. H. Gaines for her time and effort put into reveiwing this essay for me. Thank you, Dr. Gaines.

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