We human beings don’t handle technological progress very gracefully. Those of us who have spent years doing things “the hard way” can feel cheated when suddenly someone invents an easy way.
Take, for example, the ballpoint pen. This little invention (and its immediate predecessors) essentially obsoleted centuries of tradition in penmanship, calligraphy, and pen care. And it’s not just pens. The same thing happened with the advent of painkillers. Or television. Or typewriters. This sort of change leads to all kinds of post hoc justifications for why the old way is better.
We don’t like to feel like suckers. We don’t like to feel that our sufferings have been needless, and we especially don’t like to feel that skills we’ve obtained “the hard way” are suddenly invalid and irrelevant. So we create narratives whereby “the hard way” is recast as “the right way”.
Problems come when we introduce this moral element of “rightness” to technological advances. These narratives discourage us from improving our situation by claiming that our suboptimal way is, in fact, the ideal way. That’s when we really become suckers. We’re not suckers for having gone through the hard way when the hard way was the only way. We’re suckers for sticking with the old hard way when we see there are better ways to be tread.
Once we’ve become suckers by morally obligating “the hard way” to ourselves, we become monsters when we apply our self-defined lens of rightness to others. We say, “Because I grew up in this way, and because it was good for me, it must be good for you!” In our day, I see this happening with anti-depressants, cosmetic surgery, and online relationships. I’ve seen each of these advances work for great good in the lives of my friends, yet they are consistently demonized by people who have no understanding of or experience with them.
So may we spend less time condemning others for doing the things we wish we could have done (or even the things we’re glad not to have done). And may we then pick ourselves up and live out our own lives with passion. Let us seek out the praiseworthy and the lovely and leave behind our baggage and hangups.