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Archive for June 10th, 2010

Some wise person once observed that we do not make our technology as much as our technology makes or shapes us.  This is perhaps at not time more evident that in our current technologically driven culture.  Of course, give it a few more years and the evidence will only be greater.  Most people embrace all forms of technology without question or judgment.  This is what the companies who market to the mass of humanity are hoping for from the consumers.

I have been without a cellular phone for over a year now.  After the initial technology withdrawals, I have been observing our culture with a different set of eyes.  It’s kind of like someone who has smoked for years and then quitting.  Suddenly, the world is different with tastes and smells that went unnoticed before under the ubiquitous cloud of smoke.

Now I notice couple and families strolling through the grocery store or neighborhood park together with one or more of them eye-pasted to their personal cell phone texting and receiving text messages.  Spouses and children go unnoticed, let alone their surroundings with its sights, sounds and activities.  Not only can so many of us not drive without attempting to text and receive text messages, but we also cannot sit in someone’s presence without checking out phone after every vibration or beep that emanates from it.

It used to be that “keeping up with the Jones'” meant that you too had indoor plumbing; then it was electricity; then it was a telephone; then it was a black and white television – and then a colored one; then it was the microwave; then it was a cordless phone; then it was the personal tape or CD player; then it was a car phone; then it was a computer; and, now, it is a cell phone.  However, it is more invasive than just having a cell phone.  Now my family must have cable TV with a personal TV in each person’s bedroom.  Each person is expected to also have their own computer – preferably a laptop.  With the phone or cable company’s family plan, each person in my family can also have a cell phone.  Thankfully, the phone or cable company can “bundle” all these services together so that I only get one bill a month – a big bill – instead of several.

Well, to save money and avoid the technology bill, my family is without cell phones.  So, to many of our acquaintances, we come across as Luddites.  On top of that we do not have a television, let alone cable.  So, that puts us in the “weird” category.  We do have two computers – a laptop and desktop – with internet capabilities, so once they hear that then we move up a category just above the Amish technology-wise.  It still strikes me as odd that my family of four cannot get by with two computers in our household.  There is constant haggling over who needs online next.  The rule is:  Work and school before play.

We have friends and family who spend their evenings with each member sitting in different rooms in the house self-entertaining themselves on their personal computers or TV’s.  Car trips are spent listening to personal listening devices and texting on cell phones.  Now there is also DVD players in cars and mini-vans to keep the kids entertained.  Better yet, personal DVD players are now available.  Hardly a church service, wedding or funeral goes uninterrupted from a cell phone going.  Our most important and sacred times together as humans are broken by the sounds of vibrating and beeping electronic devices.

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007

Mink at Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

It seems to me that the more our toys and objects become personalized the more we as individuals become impersonal.  We no longer stop to make conversation, eye contact, smile at passerby-ers or connect with those around us.  It is too easy for me to be absorbed in my own little world connected with only what interests me.  In short, I share my world with no one.  It becomes all about me – my texts, my play lists and my messages.

Time will only tell what the ramifications of this technological trend will have upon our future relationships and civilization.  There is already talk of some who are “fasting” from technology for periods of time.  Families are taking “no technology” vacations with no cell phones, personal listening or game devices.  Some radical individuals are attempting to “unplug” there lives as much as possible from all technology.  I do not recommend becoming a Luddite.  On the other hand, these efforts to reconnect without technological interruptions should be applauded.

The new conversation among technology companies and our government concerns “technology rights.” The idea is that every one has the right to have access to technology.  Everyone should have access to the internet, which requires access to a computer also.  My children are required now to use the internet for homework, either for research or to turn it in.  This puts a lot of pressure on even the poorest to have computers and internet access through the telephone or cable company.  Most do not live close enough to the public library to have ready access to those resources.

It is true as someone wisely observed about humans and technology:  What is a convenience today will be considered a right to own and have tomorrow.  When counseling and giving advice to individuals or families during difficult times, they cannot imagine forgoing the cost of cable or their cell phones.  It is unthinkable!  They would rather find ways to cut back on the grocery bill instead or not use the heat or air conditioning as much.  Like it or not, this is the new reality of the 21st century.

Subtly, our own technology and enamoration with it is redefining our existence. Like the humans in the Pixar movie WALL-E, technology appears to be taking over our lives.  Our dependence upon it puts us in a symbiotic relationship where our very existence – life, liberty and happiness – is dependent upon its co-existence.  This may very soon in our future redefine what it means to be human.  It already redefines the “haves” and “have nots.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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