How Technology is Destroying Human Happiness
(a work in progress)
Although we who live in the 21st century currently enjoy the greatest personal wealth, the most plentiful food, the most effective medical care, and the longest average life-spans in human history, a shockingly large number of us are desperately unhappy. Hundreds of studies by medical and social scientists confirm that happiness and satisfaction in today’s world is seriously undermined by an epidemic of chronic stress, free-floating anxiety, widespread depression, and acute loneliness that is without precedent in human history.
Seeking relief from these psychological torments, we have tried to find solace in pleasure-giving foods, psychoactive drugs, and the artificial companionship of electronic devices. But our growing addiction to these panaceas has actually made things worse, because our overconsumption of foods, drugs, and electronic communications has itself created a host of new problems. These problems include dramatic increases in heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and drug addiction—as well as a long list of physical and emotional disorders from which we are suffering in increasing numbers.
This book explains how the unnatural lifestyles made possible by modern technologies have led to the widespread destruction of human happiness. But first, in order to understand the origins and nature of this paradox, it is necessary to appreciate the degree to which humans had adapted to their natural environments throughout the long history of our species’ evolution.
Our prehistoric ancestors spent their lives hunting wild game and gathering plant foods, wandering endlessly in search of new supplies of food, sheltering in caves or in primitive huts, and staying warm and safe near their ever-burning campfires. Armed with simple tools and weapons and protected from the elements by little more than temporary dwellings made from vegetation and crude clothing made from animal hides, prehistoric humans pursued essentially the same nomadic hunting and gathering way of life for nearly a million years.
It was only a few thousand years ago that humanity developed an entirely new way of life based on agriculture and settled down to live in enduring houses and permanent communities. The abandonment of hunting and gathering eventually led to the emergence of cities—and ultimately to the rise of civilization and large-scale societies that have flourished throughout the inhabited world for most of the past 5,000 years. Finally, only a few hundred years ago, the industrial revolution catapulted the earth’s human population to more than a thousand times its original size.
Industrialization has not only destroyed most of the earth’s wilderness habitats but has so radically transformed human environments that the vast majority of us no longer live in the natural world. Instead, we now spend most of our lives living in the unnatural environments of concrete, steel, and glass. This book will explain how the disconnect between our inherited human natures and our artificial lifestyles and environments is destroying human happiness.
The Assault on Human Nature
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the ancient harmony that once existed between human nature and the natural environment has been swept away, and the relationship between our inherited natures and the technology-driven world we have created is now suffering from a profound disconnect. As a result, the human race has fallen into a state of profound mental and physical unease, an affliction that has swept throughout the world’s contemporary societies.
Although technology has changed every aspect of human existence, the highly adaptable human species has become so accustomed to living this unnatural life that it no longer recognizes the disconnect between its inner natura and the technological world it now inhabits.
Human Nature in a Technological World
Living the Unnatural Life In a Technology-Driven Society
Hunters and Gatherers in the Natural World
How Humanity's Traditional Way of Life Disappeared
The Evidence That
Human Behavior is Inherited
The Nature of Human Nature
Between Human Nature and Modern Life
Neural Adaptation: How the Brain Adjusts to Unnatural Conditions
Social Acceptance: The Power of Other People’s Perceptions
Many behaviors that are found in all human societies are unique to the human species, including fire and cooking, a complex spoken language, religious worship, singing and dancing, and our uniquely human expressions of emotion. These and other universal human behaviors show that we have all inherited a definable human nature that evolved during our species’ long history as hunters and gatherers, but our natures have become disconnected from the unnatural world of modern industrial society. Yet we go through life with little or no awareness of this disconnect, because the human brain naturally adapts to almost any condition as long as it is persistent—and accepts the perceptions of the people around us, even when they fly in the face of reality.
A Rising Tide of Unhappiness
Stress, Anxiety, Loneliness, and Depression is the New Normal
The Loss of Freedom and Autonomy
The Loss of Human Companionship
The Shock of Change
How Chronic Anxiety and Stress Can Kill You
While advanced technologies have bestowed numerous benefits on humankind, they have also created significant hazards to our psychological well-being, including the loss of personal freedom and autonomy, the loss of human companionship, a mental life drowning in information overload, the shock of rapid and continuous change, pervasive culture wars, and an environment poisoned by pollutants that affect our minds and emotions. The result is unprecedented levels of chronic anxiety and stress in the world’s most technologically advanced societies.
Growing Up in Captivity
Childhood Was Once a Time of Freedom
Adult Supervision, Structured Routines, and Enforced Isolation
Excessively Schooled and Starved for Play
How Age Segregation Destroys Tradition
Walled Off From the Adult World
Childhood in tribal societies was a time of freedom, exploration, daily exposure to adult life and adult role models, and intense interaction with other children. But children in modern society are raised in virtual captivity. Their movements are confined, their interactions are limited, and their lives are highly structured from morning to night. In school, children sit for much of the day in their assigned seats, mostly prohibited from interacting with their peers and forbidden to engage in the play activities that are so essential for normal physical and social development. They are typically segregated from children older or younger than themselves—which chokes off the normal flow of values, attitudes, and traditions from one age group to another. They have little contact with the adult world—which they will enter naïve and unprepared, upon coming of age. For all of these reasons, children in our society typically struggle—often without success—to develop meaningful adult roles and authentic adult personalities.
Adulthood Without Satisfaction
Almost Endless Adolescence
The Crisis of Personal Identity
The Decline of Lasting Sexual Partnerships
How the Elderly Became Obsolete
Homeless Amid Plenty
The Disappearing Family
Adulthood in contemporary society seems to arrive later and later in life, as the generations who came of age in the 21st century increasingly remain dependent on their parents well into their thirties. Marriage—once considered necessary for achieving true adulthood—has been declining for decades in the most technologically advanced nations, and having children has lost much of its former appeal. And the elderly—once the indispensable caretakers for young children and the fountainhead of knowledge and experience—no longer have a vital role to play, either in the family or in society at large. Traditional family roles are falling by the wayside, the sharing of work, wealth, and property among family members has become increasingly obsolete, and many people now live without homes, without families, and without a meaningful connection to society. The nation-state has assumed ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the elderly, impoverished, and disabled members of society. Has the human family finally become obsolete?
Employment as a Form of Servitude
Hunter-Gatherers at Work and Play
The Drudgery of Agricultural Work
The Mass Servitude of Industrial Employment
Boredom, Insecurity, Anxiety,
When anthropologists began to study the working life of hunting and gathering societies, they were astonished to find that even in the harshest environment, people spent less than twenty hours a week hunting and foraging for the food they needed—and spent the rest of their daylight hours socializing, making things, playing, and relaxing. But with the coming of the industrial revolution, a new type of society arose, built on the premise of employment for wages. In industrial society, the vast majority of people depend for their livelihoods on doing specific jobs for near-strangers. As a result, the average wage-earner has no option other than employment, since the loss of employment ultimately means the loss of food, shelter, clothing, and status in society. For the majority of adults, the result of this form of forced labor is a working life characterized by insecurity, anxiety, burnout, and crushing boredom.
Artificial Light, Unnatural Schedules, and Widespread Insomnia
Sunrise, Sunset, and the Moon
Sleeping With Fire and Staying Up Late
Lamplight, Candlelight, and Electric Lighting
Sleep in the Clockwork Society
Putting Sleep Last
The Risks of Inadequate Sleep
When the industrial revolution replaced the dim, flickering light of fires, lamps, and candles with the artificial daylight of electric lighting, the sleep centers in the human brain no longer took all of their cues from the rising and setting of the sun. Instead, humanity soon lost its ancient connection to the rhythms of daylight and darkness that govern the behavior of all other forms of terrestrial life. No longer connected to these natural rhythms, human sleep has taken a back seat to the demands of work and to the temptations of social life and electronic entertainment. As a result, sleep disorders have become commonplace and chronic, and the unnatural patterns of sleep in modern life now represent a serious risk to both physical and mental health.
Searching for Happiness
Awash in anxiety, stress, and loneliness from our unnatural way of life, we now seek comfort and relief in activities that reward us with pleasurable sensations. Human nature itself motivates us to seek pleasure in eating, to ease pain with medicine, and to find comfort in human companionship. But these natural cravings have become distorted, as the food, medicine, and communications technologies of modern society offer the false hope that their products will cure what ails us. Foods are artificially processed and reformulated in order to make them unnaturally pleasing to the human palate. Psychoactive medications are manufactured, marketed, and sold in staggering numbers to hundreds of millions of addicted consumers. And the proliferation of electronic communications has increasingly replaced face-to-face human interaction, diluting and cheapening human companionship in the process.
Eating for Pleasure
Ruining Our Health by Seeking Comfort in Food
Edible Food-Like Substances
Overfed Yet Malnourished
The Wages of Obesity
Sugar and Salt, Oil and Fat
The Diet as Cure-All
Many of the foods that dominate the modern diet are eaten not so much to sustain life as to provide comfort in the midst of unhappiness. It is human nature to crave sweet and salty foods, as well as meats rich in fats and oils, because such foods, while essential to human health, existed in limited supply in the wild. But now that they are produced in massive quantities by industrial agriculture, these foods have become both plentiful and inexpensive. Foods that are unnaturally rich in sugar, salt, oil, and fat are marketed relentlessly and sold in prodigious quantities—and the result is an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease without precedent in human history. Since people are aware that their dietary habits are both unnatural and unhealthy, modern societies have embraced a bewildering variety of diets and food taboos—and many of these diets are actually depriving us of foods that are essential to proper health. And since our modern customs of unnatural eating are a direct result of the artificial lifestyles we continue to pursue, all of our many diets and food taboos have utterly failed to solve the problem.
Seeking Relief by Taking Drugs
Fighting Unhappiness by Drugging the Mind
Treating Normal Emotions With Psychoactive Drugs
Drug Addiction, Legal and Illegal
Drugging Children to Make Them Behave
Drugging Adults to Make Them Accept Their Unhappy Lives
Modern medicine has found cures for infectious diseases, developed effective treatments for wounds and infections that used to be fatal, and greatly extended the average human life span. But in recent decades the pharmaceutical industry—as well as the practice of psychiatry—has been corrupted by the massive profits it has reaped from the prescribing and sale of psychoactive drugs. In fact, the demand for psychoactive drugs is so great—especially for the more powerful intoxicants such as opiates, cocaine, and methamphetamines—that it has spawned a multi-billion-dollar international criminal enterprise which has spread gang violence, sex trafficking, robbery, and murder throughout all levels of modern society. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans die every year by overdosing on both legal and illegal opioids and methamphetamines.
Excessive overmedication by
psychiatric drugs is now commonplace in medical practice—not only for a vast range
of psychological problems but also for the feelings and behaviors that are the
natural reactions to the unnatural conditions of daily life. To a degree that
would have been unfathomable to earlier generations, modern society’s use of
psychoactive drugs to control emotions has become accepted as normal. In fact, a
large and growing segment of our population—including both children and adults—have
become not only legal drug users but are now, in every sense of the word, the
victims of medically-approved drug addiction.
How Electronic Media Are Corrupting Human Interaction
The Human Need for Communication
Hunter-Gatherers Talk All Day Long
How Agriculture Limited Human Interaction
How Industrial Society Stifled Human Interaction
Filling the Void With Electronic Communications
Addicted to social Media
Cultural anthropologists have long observed that people in tribal societies talk to each other constantly from morning to night—and in fact, the innate human need for constant communication with others is part of our human DNA. But as technology has played an increasingly greater role in society, face-to-face interaction has been increasingly suppressed. The long hours of work and the isolated farms of agricultural societies made interaction outside of the immediate family more difficult, while the coming of the industrial revolution stifled human interaction even among family members. Men went to work, children went to school, and women stayed home. As loneliness and solitude became widespread in modern society, the frustrated human need for companionship and communication was replaced by new technologies of mass communication such as the telephone, radio, and television. With the recent invention of the mobile smartphone, the replacement of face-to-face interaction by electronic media has now reached epidemic proportions, as our newfound addiction to email, messaging, and social media has profoundly distorted our family lives and friendships. Perhaps most troubling of all is the effect of these digital devices on the social development, personalities, and self-images of our society’s younger generations. Of all the members of our unnatural society, it is they who are the most seriously affected—and who stand to lose the most.
The Quest For a More Natural Life
Restoring Harmony Between Society and Human Nature
Liberating the Young
Respecting the Need For Sleep
Eating More Naturally
Dependence on Psychoactive Drugs
Rediscovering the Art of Human Communication
Reconnecting With Nature
Our technology-based world is here to stay. Civilization is not going to devolve back into some form of preindustrial way of life, because that is not what people want. Yet in a world where happiness, satisfaction, and the simple pleasures of life are in short supply, the thirst for change is strong. By carefully exploring, analyzing, and comprehending our human natures—and by understanding the changes in modern culture that have stifled and frustrated our natural human needs—modern society can chart a path to the creation of new cultural traditions. By doing so, we can restore much of the harmony that has been lost between our inherited human natures and the technological world that we have created—and, in the process, begin to restore at least some of the happiness that we have so innocently and tragically lost.