Healing in the Age of Technology
Will the human technology of forgiveness survive in the next wave of digital technology?
Much of the current conversation about the future of technology is about the metaverse, a digitally-native space where we will transact more of our lives and work. I’m fascinated by the trend where our digital identities slowly overtake our physical, in-person ones as the primary self, and our physical economies are subsumed into digital ones where we’ll care more about the digitally-scarce art on our screens than the art on our walls. All of this is thrilling and deeply concerning; this is both uncharted territory and simply the next evolution of social media.
It’s no secret that despite its promise to connect us, technology has the power to estrange. We’re already noticing this in our workplaces where remote colleagues are using Slack, Zoom, and other digital-first mediums to grapple with systems of oppression, racial trauma, and histories of harm. It’s no surprise, then, that so many of these conversations are not going well: 1) we’re grappling with hundreds of years of pain, 2) at the workplace, 3) within hierarchical org-charts, 4) over digital mediums that collapse nuance and cajole us to speak more than listen. As Tressie Cottom says, “we’re having the thickest conversations in the thinnest spaces.” Will the metaverse be a similarly thin space where people can just “leave the chat” when they find it unsavory? Will our online spaces be designed to skillfully facilitate hard conversations that really should be taken offline?
At the root of this is the simple truth that no matter what space we are in, we are unskilled at the crucial responsibility to heal - both collectively and personally. Maybe we’ve always struggled with it. Maybe it’s harder now than it has been. In the novel Shantaram, Gregory Roberts explores the idea that the human race would have died off long ago had it not been for our capacity to forgive. Without it, endless cycles of revenge would have rendered us extinct. In this way, forgiveness is the fundamental “technology” of our species. Without forgiveness, the species doesn’t last. With it, everything is still possible.