technology is diminishing us

Jonathan Safran Foer in The Guardian:

FoerThe first time my father looked at me was on a screen, using technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only rest his hand on my grandmother’s belly and imagine his infant in his mind. But by the time I was conceived, my father’s imagination was guided by technology that gave shape to sound waves rippling off my body. The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctor’s office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and make women less likely to choose abortions. The technology has also been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy – because of deformity, because the parent wants a child of a certain sex. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to make life-and-death decisions? My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first child before birth. I raised the issue with my uncle, a gynaecologist who had delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly, not to find out. He said, “If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.”

I don’t believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One needn’t believe in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them. Psychologists who study empathy and compassion are finding that, unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to comprehend “the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation”. Simply put, the more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth – redefining “text” from what fills the hundreds of pages of a novel, to a line of words and emoticons on a phone’s screen – the less likely and able we are to care. That’s not even a statement about the relative worth of the contents of a novel and a text, only about the time we spend with each.

More here.