Technology today is amazing. But it’s a double-edged sword. I’m referring specifically to communications and information technology. C&I technology has made it easier and more convenient than ever to communicate in a far-reaching sense, but it’s my fear that it is destroying the art of conversation, and overwhelming us with more information than we can possibly process in a lifetime.
My love/hate relationship with technology began one day in the early 90’s. My boyfriend at the time was blathering on about the internet. The internet? I had no idea what he was talking about but somehow I knew he (an engineer and former math teacher) was going to tell me. “It’s a way of retrieving information,” he said, knowing that anything more in-depth would cause me to glaze over. “Why can’t I just go to the library?” I replied. End of conversation.
But eventually I got a computer, and with all the skill of a Neanderthal learning to make a weapon out of the jaw-bone of a woolly mammoth, I began to use the internet. At first I traveled the information highway only as a last resort, but then libraries computerized their records and I was forced to sputter into the 21st Century.
The internet makes it so easy to find the answers to burning questions, which is a good thing. However, the instant gratification makes it impossible for me to retain the answers longer than a nano-second. Back in the day, when I had to search through books, files, and piles of research for something, I remembered it forever. Yes I know, I can just look it up again, but I worry about the “what you don’t use you lose” theory. I want to rely on my brain to retain information, not my computer.
And then, there’s the cell phone, BlackBerry, iPhone, etc. Frankly, I used to object to talking on the phone instead of actual face-time. But nowadays, I rarely talk at all. I text. I refused to text for years, until I realized that everyone I knew screened their phone calls and the only way I could get a response was to send a text message.
I see people everyday walking around like zombies, texting, never acknowledging any human being they come in contact with. They drive mindlessly, changing lanes and running people off the road without ever realizing what they’ve done because they’re so engrossed in their BlackBerry. The other day, I watched a group of girls having lunch. They weren’t talking to each other. They were sitting silently at their table text messaging people who weren’t there. And last week, my daughter and I text’d each other until our messages became so long and convoluted that she finally broke down and called me. WTF?
The techno-trend is growing rapidly. When Apple launched the newest version of their iPhone, the line of eager customers wrapped around the block. The Apple folks were serving coffee and bottled water from a rolling cart to people who’d been waiting outside the store for two days! And they were all standing in line texting…
Facebook is a phenomenon that’s opening up a whole new world of communication, but it’s twisting our social lives in the process, especially the technology driven, younger generation. Watch this Toyota commercial. It’s funny, kind of sad, and illustrates my point.
Toyota Venza "Social Network"
I’ll admit, I do enjoy Facebook. I moved to Dallas last year, and FB allows me to keep up with friends and loved ones back home, as well as lots of really cool friends from all over the world, many of whom I would never have met without FB. We exchange information about our comings and goings, read each other’s comments, quotes, and funny anecdotes, share thoughts and ideas, and view recent (and occasionally, ancient) photos of each other.
But last night, while chatting online, it occurred to me that, except for my daughter, my sister, and a couple of close friends, I haven’t spoken to most of these people in months. Some for years. And a few I’ve never even met!
It’s getting to the point where we are constantly communicating, but we’re not SAYING anything. We aren’t seeing facial expressions. We aren’t privy to nuances like tone of voice, a smile, or body language. We shop online, get information online, and read online. Most customer service numbers are automated…we almost never talk to a real person. We’re living virtual lives, staring at a screen, typing on a keyboard, or manipulating a digital device. I find that problematic, and more than a little distressing.
So I’ve vowed to make an effort to use technology to enhance, rather than rule my life. How? Talk in-person whenever possible. Talk on the phone if in-person is impossible. And for God’s sake, when I’m eating lunch with someone, turn off my phone and talk to them! Text only when necessary. Don’t text when I drive…no text message is worth driving into a wall for.
Limit my time on Facebook, and don’t post every little thought that pops into my head. If I do post something, at least try to make it interesting and/or significant. And just for kicks, go to the library occasionally and research something instead of Googling.
A final note. Even though I‘m lamenting the demise of the art of conversation, there will always be a place in my heart for the written word. I love to read. And blogging online provides me the opportunity to reflect on, articulate and share my thoughts in a (hopefully) positive way with more people than I could ever reach otherwise.
Technology can be used for good or evil. It can encourage widespread communication, keep us connected to friends and family, introduce us to new friends, and provide worlds of information with the touch of a finger. Or, it could be the downfall of civilization. We get to decide.:)