Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, talks about the most powerful technology there is: the technology of ideas.
As we adjust to the reality of ever-advancing technology (owning or carrying four high-tech devices and participating in two or three social networks at any given time), and to the science behind the technology (the “thing technology”), Schwartz points out there is a more illusive adjustment we need to consider – to the “idea technology”, that is – the concepts that are created and evolve as modern science advances.
While “thing technology” only impacts our lives if they actually work, Schwartz warns us about the long lasting impact of “idea technology”, since it can have a profound effect even when it is faulty, or based on false ideas (and that is what he defines as “ideology”). But shouldn’t false ideas die of ‘natural causes’, the same way that faulty technology does? Unfortunately that’s not the case.
For example why do people work? People need incentives, but it seems that money is the only valid one these day. Yet when we say about someone ‘he’s just in it for the money’ it shows a lack of respect for their motives… so why do we embrace it?
That is the “incentive theory of everything,” where making a specific incentive relevant makes its recipient crave for its fulfillment – such as replacing work satisfaction solely with financial incentive.
The power of self-fulfilling prophecy is also a big factor of how we let idea technology influence us. Children who are performance oriented want to prove their abilities, while mastery-oriented children want to improve their abilities. What it means is that performance-oriented children believe that intelligence is fixed, so don’t try to get smarter. Mastery-oriented children challenge it and learn. So is intelligence fixed? Only if that’s what you believe.
So unlike the tale of the scorpion and the frog, human nature is very much a product of the society we live in, and Schwartz suggests to not take the term ‘human nature’ at face value and warns us to “ Be very, very suspicious when you hear explanations of anything that appeal to ‘human nature.’ Chances are that even if it is ‘human nature,’ it is a human nature that has been created, and not a human nature that has been discovered.”
To view more of Barry Schwartz’s TED talk, see the links below: