“An ancient-Greek Steve Jobs would have died penniless and unsung.” writes Eric Weiner in a piece entitled “Why This Is Happening in the 21st Century” where he contemplates our misplaced faith in technology and suggests we look to ancient Greece to build a brighter future.
Weiner quotes a Ukrainian refugee baffled by a Russian invasion in the 21st century: “How can this be happening in 2022?” she asked a CNN reporter incredulous, “We have Teslas and so much amazing technology.”
We have outsourced ‘our deepest human yearnings to smartphones and Silicon Valley hucksters. Enough. It’s time to reclaim human agency, and accountability.’
‘It is an understandable question, one that many people are asking. We live in the most technologically advanced age in human history. We can instantly transmit boatloads of data across the globe, and access virtually all of human knowledge with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. Yet the grim images streaming out of Ukraine paint a darker, antediluvian picture.
‘This cognitive dissonance stems from our misplaced faith in technology, and an attendant disregard for other forms of human progress.’ writes Weiner.
Weiner goes on to suggest we have outsourced ‘our deepest human yearnings to smartphones and Silicon Valley hucksters. Enough. It’s time to reclaim human agency, and accountability.’
‘One way to build a brighter future is by revisiting the past. Ancient Greece, in particular. The Greeks were known for many things but technology was not one of them. Pursuing new gadgetry was considered “trivial and unworthy,” says Armand D’Angour, a classicist at Oxford University. To be a tinkerer or inventor in ancient Athens was to be relegated to the lowest rung on the social ladder. Should a Silicon Valley technokind suddenly materialize in ancient Athens, he would be treated like any other craftsman, with a puny salary, no recognition, and, when his back was turned, a derisive sneer. He was working with his hands, making things; he was not a warrior or an athlete or a thinker. An ancient-Greek Steve Jobs would have died penniless and unsung.
‘The ancient Greeks gauged progress differently from us. “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there,” Plato said. The Greeks, imperfect as they were, honored beauty and justice and moral excellence, and so they cultivated these values. We honor speed and connectivity and portability, and so that is what we get.
‘What’s needed is nothing less than a complete rethink of what words like “progress” and “future” mean. If we do that, genuine headway is possible. War might not be eliminated, human nature being what it is, but no longer will we ask, “How can this be happening in the 21st century?” We’ll know why and, more importantly, we’ll know how to roll up our low-tech sleeves and do something about it.’ Weiner concludes
Eric Weiner is a popular speaker and author of the New York Times bestseller The Geography of Bliss, Man Seeks God, The Geography of Genius and The Socrates Express. Weiner’s books have been translated into more than 20 languages. He is a former foreign correspondent for NPR and the author of numerous articles about travel and culture. He spent a decade overseas for NPR, based in New Delhi, Jerusalem and Tokyo.