With the growing emergence of technology and our busy routine, everyone is busy on their own; people are considering their lives so busy! Are we becoming less happy in this modern era of technology?

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  • Ordinary people always were busy. Thus, the answer, I guess, would be "No". – rus9384 Nov 8 at 17:45
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    How to you measure aggregate happiness? Were people more happy when life expectancy was 30 and we got eaten by mastodons? – user4894 Nov 8 at 18:57
  • @user4894 That example is not spectacular. Say, peasants who worked in the fields for 12 hours were happier. – rus9384 Nov 8 at 19:06
  • Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. Your post is not really an answerable question but an invitation to other users to share their thoughts. This is suitable for a forum but here is considered off-topic. We take more pointed questions that are more or less objectively answerable based on existing literature. – Conifold Nov 8 at 22:14
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    @DavidBlomstrom I have unfairly maligned mastodons. Thank you for bringing that to my attention. "Today I learned." Personally I like modernity. Someone else will have to be very unappy with modern life in order to cancel out my happiness. So again, how does one quantify aggregate happiness? Maybe YOU are unhappy working 12 hours a day in a chair . Myself, back when I was working 12 hours a day in a chair, much preferred that to hunting mastodons. And how about modern medicine? I had some surgery a while back. I really enjoy anesthesia. Old days better? Not in my opinion. – user4894 Nov 9 at 3:53
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Very good question. Though you don't directly correlate happiness and technology in your question, the implication is clear.

Your question at least hints at the age old debate between people who see virtue in Nature (championed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778)) and those who see virtue instead in technology.

Before discussing predictions, we might try to answer your question directly. We might ask if depression is increasing.

In fact, Depression IS increasing, according to many reports. Still, that isn't really a definitive answer. Depression wasn't really closely studied or measured 1,000 years ago, and psychology can be a little flaky.

As others have noted, technology has given us some really cool things, including advances in health care. But there always seems to be a tradeoff. Modern transportation is a major contributor to climate change, for example.

I would argue that what distinguishes the opening years of the 21st century is the proliferation and worsening of global issues, including overpopulation, climate change, genetically modified food, the Internet (with a focus on propaganda, spying and manipulation) and militarization.

The problems created by early automobiles, refrigerators and tin cans were largely manageable, even if they weren't properly managed. But we've leaped into a domain where we can scarcely understand our problems, let along manage them.

Fear of the unknown is one of the greatest phobias, and I think many people have a deep, instinctive fear that something is horribly wrong, not just with our government or society but the planet itself.

Yet another factor in the U.S. and at least some other countries that is at least loosely linked with technology is the economy. Many people are forced to hold down two or more meaningless jobs in order to make ends meet. Both spouses often work.

There are still more factors. The world is increasingly urbanized, and big cities are clearly more stressful (in general) than less populated rural areas. People are more mobile, putting strains on relationships.

Depression can also be caused by chemicals or health problems.

In WiFi cafes here in Seattle, I seldom hear people discuss politics. But when they do, someone will often comment on some of the issues I mentioned above with great concern. Then they'll suddenly apologize for bringing everyone down and change the subject to entertainment, video games, whatever. People know something is wrong, and that something is so big and hard to understand, they're afraid to even talk about it.

[Americans are more depressed and miserable than ever] (The New York Post)2 [What is depression and why is it rising? (The Guardian)]3

  • Your metric is the amount of whining in Seattle cafes? You call that evidence? – user4894 Nov 9 at 15:46
  • Depression is increasing due to increasing gap between rich and poor I say (compare with Japan?). That's capitalism, not technology. After too much depression there is some painful event, but later inequality becomes lower and depression as well. And all that repeats. Within capitalism, of course. Another factor might be mass media: it's harder to be positive when bad things happen. They always happened, but with mass media people know how often they do. – rus9384 Nov 9 at 21:07
  • @user4894 - No, that isn't my "metric." It's called anecdotal evidence. I'ver heard similar stories from people in other cities, other countries. Many people are gripped with a sense of selflessness. – David Blomstrom Nov 10 at 1:51
  • @user4894 - Yes, capitalism can be awfully depressing, but guess what? The increasing gap between the rich and the poor has a lot to do with technology. Moreover, there's nothing new about the mass media. In fact, the media often try to make people feel positive - telling us unemployment is at a record low, for example. – David Blomstrom Nov 10 at 1:54

I suspect that happiness is pretty much what you get when you have good relationships with other people, including any people having power or authority over you. To the extent that people isolate themselves with technology, I would say that "Yes, modern technology makes us unhappy."

But I would not say that this is a purely up-to-date modern thing; after all, in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (1843), wasn't Ebenezer Scrooge's fault isolation-due-to-focus-on-things (specifically, his business)?

Likewise, Inspector Javert, the villain in Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" (1862) lived a life "of privations, isolation, self-denial, and chastity—never any amusement". Javert, like us, gave his free attention to the written word: "In his leisure moments... although he hated books, he would read."

Still, these two works of literature were produced after the steam engine. I wonder if such depictions of human unhappiness, surrounded by media, have older counterparts!

  • Oh, yes, majority of those who have much money and do not need to go to work in an office (say, small business) feel themselves less happy then those who work for pennies and see collegues and boss despising themselves and each other. – rus9384 Nov 8 at 18:58
  • @rus9384, I'm afraid I don't follow. – elliot svensson Nov 8 at 19:18
  • You say that unhappiness is due to lack of relationships. But the post is essentially about the need to work. And I say that now people work less than in 15 century. And people from 15 century hardly could be happy working all day long, often being ill, etc. Good relationships alone are not enough. – rus9384 Nov 8 at 19:20
  • @rus9384, I think it's easy to show that bad relationships make us unhappy, and that no relationships also make us unhappy... are you essentially saying that good relationships don't make an oppressed person happy? – elliot svensson Nov 8 at 19:25
  • Yes, good relationships are not enough. I even say that unhappy person can't have good relationships due to passive aggresion and other things. – rus9384 Nov 8 at 19:27

Technology enables us to be wealthier (which correlates with happiness, at least up to a point) while being less busy. This is less evident in, say, the US compared to Nordic countries, due to social differences. Technology brings greater security and better health care. (I personally rely on devices to help me see, hear, walk, and sleep, and medicines for a lot more things. I'm happy.)

I'd expect technology to bring more happiness, and indeed it does appear to in many cases.

  • Are Nordic countries technologically more advanced that the US? – rus9384 Nov 8 at 18:53
  • No, but they seem to be getting more happiness than the US is. OP was talking about always feeling busy, which is more of a society thing than a tech thing, and is much more common in the US than in the European countries I'm familiar with. – David Thornley Nov 8 at 22:32
  • True. That's not about technology. That's about some greedy people. – rus9384 Nov 8 at 22:58
  • Sorry, but I had to down vote your answer because of this statement: "Technology brings greater security and better health care." That's essentially true, but the opposite is also true. Technology gave us nuclear and biochemical weapons and is ruining people's health with pollution, genetically modified food, etc. – David Blomstrom Nov 9 at 2:21
  • @DavidBlomstrom Pollution is nothing new. The form has changed, so it's no longer as much raw smoke and manure.. I've seen no evidence that genetically modified food is harmful. The crime rate and infant mortality rate are way down, and lifespans are up. Biological weapons are a threat to unleash what was relatively common before technology. Nuclear weapons aren't used. I have a lot less fear of any other human doing something bad to me or my loved ones. – David Thornley Nov 9 at 14:34

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