Sunday, October 31, 2010

For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.  ~Alice Kahn








Technology.... one of the greatest gifts of the century.  Or is it?  Statistics show by the end of the year 2010,  there will be 1.95 billion internet users and 4.6 billion people worldwide, subscribed to mobile phones.  Those numbers are staggering. The figures reinforce the tentacles of technology’s global reach.   I’m a baby boomer, so I have experienced more benefits from the advance of science than any generation.   First, we live longer than we did 100 years ago.  The average life span in 1906 for men was 47 and woman lived to the ripe old age of 51.  That puts middle age at around 24!   Now, I am exceedingly grateful to the brilliant scientists and researchers who have gifted us with vaccines, meds for my cholesterol, early detection screening equipment, and effective treatments for diseases that were a death sentence, even 50 years ago. In all honesty, I also love the efficiencies, and creature comforts technology can provide.  I like being able to call long distance without having to give up food for a week because of the cost of a phone call.  I love being able to rewrite a paper, and toggle between research on the internet and the cut and paste feature of my computer programs. Let’s face it technology has improved the costs, efficiencies, and capabilities of business today.  Just about anyone can set up a small business (technically) with a computer and a few programs and efficiently run said business, from accounting functions to marketing materials. Initially, I think technology’s main intent has been to increase efficiency and economy.  I don’t think it was ever meant to replace humanness.     
For all the things I like about technology, my column of dislikes would have way more entries. Sometimes it all just feels like a Sci-Fi movie from the 60’s;  an alien force inhabiting one human at a time, rendering our population a civilization of insensitive, ill-mannered, emotionally void, boobs!  I love that word. No one uses it in the context of “idiot” anymore.   My dad used it to describe our television when we were kids.  He called it “the boob tube”, meaning the more you watched, the more brain cell numbing.  That still could be television’s nickname today, only now, it would be aptly named because we can engage in titillation as flesh and boobs are accessible on the pay per view sites of your “boob tube” (or computer).  He would be appalled to see that brain cells aren’t the only things we’re sacrificing at the alter of technology.   Effort, accountability, authentic intimacy, attention, kindness and compassion have been thrown to the lions by the newly crowned rulers of the last decade;  King Internet and his round table of  e-mail, text messaging, and cell phone Knights.... The new age intimacy.  If you think for one minute these dictators don’t control your life, I dare you to take the abstinence challenge.... Try technology free, for just one week.  I did it for two months, in Europe, minus occasional visits to internet cafes to touch base back home via a travel blog.  One of my major discoveries on the trip was,  I slept better, worried less, obsessed much less, experienced a natural state of nirvana,  and enjoyed EVERYTHING so much more.  My creativity soared, my interactions with others were meaningful, my mind was alive with energy, and there was more excitement in the real world as it beckoned me to join in.  The first weeks were, well, very different.  But as the symptoms of withdrawal passed, I recalled how time consuming and draining the virtual world would often leave me... simply tired .  Why is this? All of this technology’s, design is to streamline our lives, giving us more time to enjoy life.  Why then are we witnessing a  generation of anti-depressant popping, sexually dysfunctional, stress-related disease ridden, malcontents?  Why have we allowed the things we thought would give us more time, steal our time, our meaningful interactions, our natural God given abilities, and most of all, our integrity and compassion?
We chat online, play cards online, pick our mates online, find a job online, get our education online, diet online, and even have sex online.  When we’re forced away from our computers, we use our phones which are essentially now, hand held lap tops.  When we do venture out for a night on the town, our focus is on the vibrating square of metal distracting us from the human beings we went to enjoy the evening with.  I watched in disgust, at a very nice restaurant, a beautiful young woman, dressed to the nines, sat across the table from her date  (God forbid he should be her husband) as he proceeded to wine, dine and flirt with the screen on his I-phone one evening.  She looked like she wanted to cry... and bolt.  I wanted to cry with her.  Our children are shushed time and again as we “really need to take this call” until their voices are no longer inclined to speak. They’ve sorted out the order of importance in mom and dad’s world, and learn early how to follow suit when they come of age and the blessed Bar Mitzvah of AT&T arrives in their own lives.  Why do we feel our own, and other’s lives, aren’t nearly as important as the “profound wisdom” texted to us while we are driving, and can’t wait to be viewed until we park the vehicle?  Our facebook friends and linkedin networks, seem to  have far more to offer than our families and loved ones. We spend more time with them.  We feel the need to let those 300+ connections know we had Cheerios for breakfast, or got a cow last night in Farmville.
It’s made us lazy too. We’ve forgotten how to be honorable.  We can’t look someone in the eye, or tell them with our voice, they aren’t a good fit for the open position in our company.   But, then again, we never see them, because applications are only accepted online. The days of dressing up and making a good first impression are unimportant. How many professional, bright and talented people have slipped through the cracks, because their resume got lost in cyber space or overlooked because of the hundreds of applicants that’s only effort in job searching, was to push the send button and electronically fire off a resume to every posting listed on a job board.  All this “effort” done, sitting in sweat pants in front of a home computer, five days of beard sprouted, and a morning beverage (could be coffee or could be a beer- doesn’t matter, no one knows the difference)  resting next to the mouse pad.  
Not only can’t we face people in our professional outreach, it’s become acceptable to deliver "bad news” to our partners via text message.  I know how this one feels and it takes a long time to recover from being discarded and discounted so insensitively.  I would love to tell you this was from a young person who just hadn’t been taught etiquette, but not the case. Technology isn’t discriminatory!   This callous method of not having to look another human being in the eye, tell the truth and accept some  accountability for the pain that you know you are responsible for carving on that face has become routine.   What happened to courage and the golden rule? Or, for that matter, just good manners?  People and their feelings have become disposable:  broken toys tossed aside to make room for other toys, found on social sights on the computer!  As Albert Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  
We never have to be intimate.  Either emotionally, or even sexually.  We can hide behind the make-believe relationships of online chitty chat or porn sites, eventually rendering us incapable of being able to conduct a real bond with a flesh and blood human being.  How much pleasure is missed by not peering into the windows of the  soul, of our attraction;  touching, frolicking, talking, and sensually connecting on multiple levels? Is not the impersonal, isolation of this kind of sexuality, another way of draining away the sweeter pleasures and merely mutual masturbation of the ego? Thrill producing for minutes, disappointingly empty as the hand we reach out to hold after, isn’t there.   How sad to never know the thrill of peeling the layers of attraction, sensuality and love that can only be experienced by using all the senses and connecting in all ways to  all the parts of another. 
I feel incredibly sorry for this next generation.  They will never know the joy of tucking away a handwritten love letter, or card for comfort or to reminisce down the road.  There is something so beautiful about touching the paper of a card or letter, the ink etching out the familiar, unique writing of a loved one who is no longer a part of our lives. No longer do we spend time searching for the perfect message in the Hallmark store.  We’re far too busy for that sacrifice, and we don’t need to.  We can send a text, drop an email, or send a cyber card! But, then many of our children aren’t even being taught cursive writing in schools! How will they learn to spell, develop a vocabulary, or use good grammar, when they think LOL is a complete sentence? How will they learn to effectively communicate, read body language, make a sacrifice for someone else, or work harder at cultivating those relationship skills that draw out the beauty in people. Will they understand much of what they see, or read on the internet is illusion, smoke and mirrors and never really brings with it real fulfilment?  
Yes, we are several generations now, of slaves to our gigabytes and  RF waves.    A technology addicted world becoming more and more dependent on our drug and less engaged in enjoying life.  Really not much different than the junkie on the corner, brown bag in hand. Our brown bag holds our Blackberry and Blue Tooth.  Does this portend a day when computers take over the world?  Perhaps.  I think we just might be safer to have our future in the hands of technology rather than a civilization of “boobs”.

Technology... the knack of so arranging the world that we don't have to experience it.  ~Max Frisch

4 comments:

  1. Ouch. This stings a little. It is so true. I saw a program the other day about self-centeredness and civility and the guest psychiatrist said in part it is due to the rise of social sites, cell phones and technology. A swing towards back to the basics is badly needed. Networking in person, dating from real social circles, common interests and volunteerism, and teaching our children to play, work and talk with other human beings rather than their video games, text messaging, and kiddie social sites. Tragically, we are their examples. Not too great. I know you are such a people person. I can see why this would rankle you. Jane

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  2. Good message Becky. I'm turning the computer off and putting my cell phone away for the weekend.

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