Anyone who has used services like Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, and even Google must have experienced personalized recommendations for things they might like. Global websites and services have endless databases that record every click, every like, every bit of information about what you like, what you’ve read to the end, and what page you left after twenty seconds. Algorithms that use all this data are getting better every day at predicting what the user likes.
Personally, I have found a lot of good music, thought-provoking articles, interesting websites, and YouTube channels thanks to internet recommendations. It could be said that thanks to the data stored about me on disks somewhere far away, I have discovered things that might never have reached me. When I realized this, I sighed to myself: “My computer knows me better than I know myself.” And not only that. It even knows my loved ones better than I do. In fact, Google’s complex algorithms might be better able to say what gift my wife would like for her birthday, what music my brother likes to listen to, or even determine what job position might interest me.
To some, this realization can even be terrifying. If machines surpass us – who are we then? With a desire for humanity, or perhaps more so with a fear of technology’s capabilities, many have decided to declare a silent (and sometimes loud) war against them. They consider the Internet dangerous, and communication via chat insufficient. However, can technology really only detract from our humanity?
Even Socrates spoke about how self-knowledge is the path to becoming more human. Through it, we become virtuous and capable of doing what is right. Today, he might ask us how we approach the pursuit of self-knowledge. Whether it truly makes us more human, or if we are stunted and becoming slaves. Humanity is what is most often discussed in relation to the risks that come with technology. Many sound the alarm and say that technology has made us less human. The way we communicate is impoverished and, as mentioned, we even come to know ourselves through technology.
However, we don’t have to immediately dismiss the knowledge that the internet brings us as “less human.” After all, we are the ones who have given it information about ourselves. By rejecting this information, we may be rejecting a part of ourselves. By rejecting remote contact, we may be rejecting a part of our relationships. By rejecting technology, we may be rejecting a part of our own culture.
Personalized recommendations, advertisements, and information about our internet footprint can teach us a lot about ourselves. We may approach the information that the internet has collected about us with fear or a sense of vulnerability. However, if we approach it with curiosity, it may provide us with self-knowledge that even Socrates would approve of.
I personally am fascinated by everything that modern technology brings us. It has brought us closer to people who are far away, opened up the world of knowledge to us, and given us the opportunity to express our opinions to the whole world. I don’t want to vehemently reject the arrival of technology and say that it’s not “the real thing”. However, when using technology, we really need to keep in mind not to reject our loved ones. You can safely spend up to 8 hours a day behind a computer if you can show love to your loved ones at the end of the day, sacrifice for them, and be a human being for them. Nothing makes us less human. Only we ourselves can do that.