In the 11th century, a Persian philosopher named Al Ghazali was attacked by a band of thieves. One of the thieves grabbed the only copy of his manuscript, The Alchemy of Happiness. It wasn’t finished yet, but nevertheless he was terrified of losing it.
Desperate, he begged the thief: “Please, don’t take this from me. All I know is in there! All I have learned so far!”
The thief famously replied: “So, if I desire to strip you of your knowledge, all I need to do is take these pages from you?”
The philosopher was allowed to keep his work, but he learned something from that encounter.
We know of course how important are the tools and devices we are using. Progress is impossible without the wonders of technology. However, any keen observer, young or old, the one who takes some time to question our future, can see the dangerous line between achieving happiness and the extended usage of devices for personal purposes.
I am not going to introduce arguments in favour or against hedonistic utilitarianism on this matter. Instead, one way to understand more about the issue is through a different kind of dialogue. One where we learn to acknowledge the importance of taking some time evaluating the necessity of doing certain things with a device, and weighting the possibility of achieving the same or a better result without completely relying on that device.
Julie has a new cat. She loves her cat and wants to tell her best friend Carol everything about the cat.
Julie takes 17 pictures and videos of the cat and uploads everything on Instagram along with 17 comments detailing each instance. The best one, she thinks, is when the cat jumped from the chair straight into her arms.
Julie calls Carol, asking her to come for a surprise. Julie shows Carol how the cat can jump from the chair into her arms.
This simple example is circumstantial of course. We can assume Carol is not in town, or her parents won’t allow her to go out, etc. But without further analyses, my argument is this:
If Julie wants to share her happiness of having a new cat with Carol, and iff B is possible, then B is desirable over A.
This is because the overall advantages of using B surpass the ones derived from A.
I gave the example of a teen because I have read a while ago an alarming study about phone dependency. And almost immediately I thought about the future of my children, and how I can support them in their life journey while being aware of this inevitable bond with technology.
You can read about the study here.
We shouldn’t be afraid of stepping away from tech every now and then. We should always remain in control of our actions. If not for anything else, then simply because by definition being addicted to something results in a loss of control.
The philosopher mentioned at the beginning of this article realised more than 1000 years ago that his knowledge was not in the manuscript he was about to lose, but in himself. We need to be proud of our capabilities as human beings, and in the same time assess the level of moderation when relying on the tech that we invented.