I Like Technology. I’m conceding all the good and fun things that computer-based technology has brought into our lives; I’ll not fight that battle. Not only would I lose any argument against the wonderful additions technology has made to our lives, I would be fighting against myself. I love it that I can flip open a Star Trek “communicator” and talk to almost anyone, anytime. I love the very idea of having a communication device out in my back yard, near the bird feeder, that is communicating with a satellite in low earth orbit. Wow! And do I ever love my computer-oops, computers. As in many computers. In fact, my job is strongly tied to technology and I love to get paid. However, this article is a warning, a plea to open our eyes wider than our big screen TVs, to step back out of cell phone range, to put down our PDAs for a minute and look at what has gotten a hold on us.
Technology is Seductive
Technology has the power to draw us in and cause us to lose perspective about what is happening. Just try talking to your child (or maybe your spouse or best friend) the next time some slick TV program or commercial is shimmering across the screen and you’ll see what has all of their attention. Technology draws us in. But if we’re drawn in, we’re also leaving something behind. We could be abandoning loving or developing relationships or the quiet time necessary to think purposefully about our lives, where we are going and how we want to live five years from now. To continue this idea, that technology is seductive, let’s look at the natural progression of how we respond to new technology.
Technology as a Toy
All new technology comes to us in the guise of a toy, thus its initial seductive pull on us. No matter the age, the new technology feels like a toy. It is smooth, pretty and flashes little lights. It makes cute sounds and we respond to it from the childlike (or childish) center of our being. It is not the sophisticated 35 year old business executive that is responding to the new all-purpose, highly-evolved technology thing, it is instead the seven year old child inside that is gushing and filled with Christmas morning lust. We might not even have any way to use it yet, but we play with it. We turn channels, set the volume on the 96 surround sound speakers (yours doesn’t have 96?), take pictures of our toes with it, and enthusiastically pursue carpel tunnel problems as quickly as our thumbs and fingers can fly over fun little colored buttons. It is a toy. But it does move evolve into our next category and that makes us feel a little better about it and helps us avoid the fact that we just spent a year of future retirement on a toy.
Technology as a Tool
The toy usually becomes a tool. In our strong desires to justify the purchase of the toy, we look for things it can do. Ah, it keeps my calendar. Cool! Now I won’t have to keep track of my $29.00 day planner and worry about losing it. I just need to worry about losing my $495 PDA. But it can also take pictures. That’s important. It’s also good that it can erase them because I find I take a lot of pictures that are really crap and now I not only spent time taking the pictures, I also get to spend time erasing them. But the toys often turn into very serious tools. I may continue to use my cell phone toy as I unconsciously blow through red lights and make turns without signaling (need that spare arm for the cell), but I also realize this toy is a serious safety tool. I don’t want to be broken down on the highway and not have this link to help. The same 50″ flat screen wall hanging that is a toy is also a tool to be aware of threatening weather and important current events. And the notebook computer that empowers me to look at pictures of potential Russian brides helps me write this article and project investment returns. Toys have the potential of becoming tools. From puppies to working dogs. But there is a third and more dangerous level.
Technology as a Tyrant
Dictionary.com offers one definition of a tyrant as, “a tyrannical or compulsory influence.” Wow! Think cellphone, e-mail, Skype, compulsive checking of forums, chat rooms, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other current flavors of Turkish delight known as technology. These things can be toys (relatively harmless except for what they might be replacing), they can be tools, or they can become tyrants. When deeply engrained into our work or social structure, they change from being puppies or work dogs and become pit bulls that can bite and clamp down so that it is very difficult to dislodge them. I used to be able to keep up with the demands of my job. Once upon a time I actually had a little time that I could budget weekly that was “walk around and get to know everyone better” time. No more. Now I am constantly juggling attention among appointments, drop-in unannounced visitors, snail mail, phone calls with the pink reminders, cell phone calls, and e-mail. I can never get one caught up without intrusions from all of the others. The first four were barely manageable, with cell and e-mail added, I’m no longer in control, the pit bull is. So, what happened?
How Did We Get Like This?
Okay. Here is the crux of this article. Technology is on a different evolutionary rate than us humans. It reproduces faster than mice and changes species with each generation. We were enticed, and continue to be enticed, by technology due to its seductive dark side. It beckons to the seven year old inside and draws us in. As a tool, technology is embraced and embedded into our lives, seemingly as a partner, one called alongside of us to help us. But, without an understanding of the evolutionary path of technology, we do not control its place in our lives. It becomes a tyrant that bullies us and pulls us around on its lease instead of the other way around. Because of the initial seductive nature of technology, we don’t easily see that it will tend to take us to where we don’t want to go and make us pay more than we first thought we were willing to pay. So, what shall we then do?
What We Must Do
I’m not offering a plan but an approach. The approach depends upon fully understanding what has gotten a grip on us. I suggest the following critical pieces for beginning to manage technology and protect our humanity:
- Clearly see that technology is seductive and separate out and control the childish reactions to the initial toy aspects of new technology. Gratification can be delayed (an adult response) and toys can be both played with and put away.
- Think through both intended and unintended consequences of bringing a shiny, new technology toy into your life. What is it replacing? How will you control it so it doesn’t put you on a leash?
- Do not assume that a new technology tool is better than an older one that worked well for you in the past. I have a colleague who keeps in a pocket a little list of things to do, thoughts, and insights. His pen and paper list worked a lot better than my PDA when when my technology tool lost both primary and backup batteries and I lost passwords to multiple accounts and forums. Which is better?
- Many new technology tools cannot be avoided. However, they can be managed. Think of ways to limit their use and how to communicate your policies for your use to your colleagues, family, and friends. For example, I check my email once a day and make it clear to my colleagues that I am not sitting at my computer all day waiting for the chime (evidently, they are).
- Finally, pay attention to the things that technology tends to replace and redouble your effort to work on relationships so you have no regrets.
To rewrite a common adage, no one’s last words are likely to be, “I wish I had purchased the 60″ HD instead of the 54”.