It is undeniable that technology has fundamentally altered our relationship to our environment and to each other, and I believe the ultimate effect has been one of alienation. No longer do we make our own food (we might still prepare it, but we do not grow it ourselves, and most of us have no idea where our food even comes from), or our own clothes, or our own furniture—in fact, most of us no longer produce anything of our own.
Heidegger argues that the result has been a deterioration in our relationship with things (in the most general sense of the term, including natural and man-made objects): Because we merely see things as resources to be 'set upon' to maximize use, we no longer see objects as having intrinsic meaning, but just as entities to be manipulated to our needs and desires of the moment. And because we no longer have to accomodate ourselves to things, but force them to accomodate themselves to us, we drain the meaning from our lives. As Heidegger scholar Mark Wrathall interprets:
Dealing with objects and people that have fixed properties requires us to develop bodily and social skills, for example. Technological devices, by contrast, replace the need for bodily skills with a mechanism that does everything for us. . . If one wanted to enjoy music at home in a pre-technological age, one had to develop the skills to perform music. In the technological age, one needs only to be able to click a mouse or push a button to consume music. . . therefore, we ourselves lose the skills and capacities that give us our own identity and, as importantly, we lose a kind of receptivity to the things around us.In my last post on Heidegger, I touched on a different problem, the way we seem to sometimes treat ourselves merely as machines to be manipulated. Indeed, dietary supplements that claim to "maximize performance" sometimes seem like they are trying to sell themselves for automobiles rather than human beings; likewise, I can't help but be creeped out by the way antidepressants purport to alter your "brain chemistry." There's no doubt about it: man is mechanizing and automating himself, both literally and metaphorically.
I know this is all very vague and not specific, so I'll try to clarify with an example of what I mean. Being in college, many of my friends are still trying to figure out "what they want to do with their lives," and some seem to have a pretty good idea. Of those who do have a good idea, I would further divide them into two groups: Those that follow their passions, and those that, more or less, seem to adopt the goals that their parents, or maybe even their peers, expect them to. Let's say, for instance, that one decides to become a doctor because that's what one's parents expect. I'm not trying to pass judgment here at all, but simply trying to note something that seems to occur in the latter case.
The person that is passionate about his chosen goals and projects naturally "throws himself" into his endeavors, while the reluctant pre-med student compels herself to study each night. That is, she feels that she works against her will, even though she is at the same time the one willing herself to work—this is the meaning of self-alienation: the feeling of coercing oneself.
What I take to distinguish self-alienation from mere self-discipline (i.e., forcing yourself to do homework even when you'd rather just relax and have a beer) is lack of self-knowledge. In the technological attitude, one does not question the "nature" of the things one harvests for resources—indeed, such a question does not even make sense, because things just are resources. Similarly, self-alienation occurs when one forces oneself to take up a certain project or goal without questioning the nature of oneself—what deters or attracts one to the goal in question, and why one may or may not be suited to pursue that goal.
I'm not sure how much of this is intelligible, but it's a good example of what happens when I let myself ramble for a while...So I'm eager to hear any thoughts you guys have!