Tuesday, August 16, 2011

8/17/11—Balancing the Costs and Benefits of Technology

Today's Draw: The Two of Coins from the Victoria Regina. How often during the day do you find yourself connected to some sort of technology? What did you used to do more of that you do less of now to make time for your gadgets? Do you control your technology or does it control you?

The Two of Coins is about balancing resources, whether it be time, money, patience or any other resource. So many of you, especially parents, spend your lives juggling one thing against another while you tread on the hamster wheel of life. This card suggests that you set priorities and put the low-priority demands aside for a while. In other words, say "no" now and again. Otherwise you may lose balance and drop it all. 

The book gave an interesting perspective on balance. It said that the Victorian era was both innovative and traditional. People simultaneously embraced newfangled inventions and clung tight to the old ways. For example, when gaslight became common in home use, it didn't spell the end of candles. People just used both. 

I don't know where or why or what, but I feel there's a danger in how quickly we adopt new technologies today. Everyone abandons the old in favor of the new, regardless of how well the old might have worked for them. And the technology industry encourages this by making the old obsolete. Can't use old TVs very well anymore. Nothing much new to do with a VCR. Even books are going high-tech. And yet, in all of this, we really never ask if we need this stuff. We just consume. So we use phones that may be giving us brain cancer and eat food that's genetically engineered and we don't seem to question it. At least not enough to say "whoa! You've gone far enough."

I'm a lot like a Victorian person in many ways. First of all, I use something until it breaks beyond reasonable or affordable repair. And I'm no worse for that. On one hand, I've been using computers pretty much my entire career. I was an early adopter of the home computer, back when modems were external and connected to the Internet at a blazing 14.4 kb/s. Also, my teenage home was one of the test markets for cable TV, so I was in early on that.

But everything else I waited until I had a crushing need for. Got a CD player quite late. Still drive cars with manual locks (not to mention no DVR player or OnStar). Don't own an ATM or Debit card. The teller at the bank works well for me. Only got a cell phone two years ago and have used it for about an hour or so in those two years. In fact, I got my first text the other day. It startled me. And I had my last TV for 20+ years...old-fashioned bowed screen and all. It worked fine. Why change it?

From my perspective, I see people attached to technology all day long. For some people, life is one big phone and/or text conversation that never ends....not in the line at Starbucks, not while driving home from work, not while your kids are struggling with personal decisions, not while your wife is needing attention, not ever. Burying heads inside technology (not to mention the "noise" it makes, like with music and TV) keeps people from actually dealing with life, what's in their heads and the rest of their environment. Same is true for kids and their gaming, people with their ipods, etc. I'm guilty myself, because I do spend a lot of time on my computer blogging, working or on Facebook. And I watch a lot of TV. I can't imagine adding a phone, texting and/or games to all that!

The result is that our view of life becomes increasingly myopic. Our gaze rarely reaches beyond the 12" between us and the computer/phone/iPad/Kindle. Most of our lives are contained within a slim, lightweight device, with the rest of the world confined to our peripheral vision. And communing with anything else, including 3D people, becomes more and more rare. Because even when we're there, we're not there. We're checking our messages. 

So I have personally drawn a line and continue to carve away at it. If I'm in my living room, I'm probably connected. But not in my back yard, rarely in my bedroom, and next to never in my car or out with friends. And when I am connected at home and one of the dogs comes by to say hello, I make a conscious practice of closing the laptop and focusing entirely on them multiple times a day. As I continue to reduce my Facebook time, I'm also pumping up my social engagements and out-of-home work so I spend more time one-on-one with people. Fortunately, most of my 3D friends are not people who check their messages compulsively or anything like that. So when we're there, we're there. Next on my list is to start spending more time at parks like I did today with my dogs. Then there's reading (real books) and being more active—all things I do more of when I'm not connected. I acknowledge I spend more time online than is healthy and am digging myself back out.

Just as we have to prioritize when we're too busy juggling our time, the same is true about the technologies that command so much of our attention. When whatever is 12" away on screen becomes more important/interesting than a person or animal 24" away, it's time to stop, take a break and reconnect with the other parts of our lives. If the phone takes you away from being conscious in your activities, turn it the frick off. You know what your own personal deal is...what is necessary and what is over the line. What serves and what's a crutch. I don't have the same connection needs of a mother or a person who travels a lot for their work. Nor do I have the same responsibilities. I can't say what is too much for you. But when you find yourself on a verdant path through the middle of the woods on a beautiful day texting or yapping on the phone, maybe it's time to take a look at the role technology plays in your life. 

It's nice to have all the neat new devices out on the market, but ask yourself if you truly need them and if the cost/benefit is worth it. At least make it a conscious decision, rather than doing it because everyone else is. There are certain drugs I never tried in my checkered past, simply because I was afraid I'd like them too much. I apply the same logic to technology. Because once you start down a road, it's hard to turn back. Life is made to be experienced with all five senses, not just sight and sound.


  1. I'm not a massive consumer of technology, so I totally get and agree with what you're saying. Even so, I do rely on technology, and when it breaks down in some way I'm not immune to being affected by it. Example: yesterday I tried to withdraw $120 from an ATM machine, but the machine only gave me $60. But my receipt says it gave me $120. Since then I've had to speak with a bank manager and two customer service reps. It's like the Universe is saying, "You can't hide from having to deal with people. I'm gonna mess with your technology a bit so that you're forced to deal with actual human beings."

  2. That's a good example, Sarah.

    Certainly of our friends, I'm probably the most connected. I'm so grateful that we can all get together without anyone having to check this and that. I know I did it a couple of times months ago, but I put the technology down when I'm in public. I was at Starbucks the other day and the lady in front of me in line was yapping her head off. It was such an "issue" for her to interrupt her call to order and she was snappish while doing so. I know it's an extreme, but I worry about what this type of thing is doing to people.

  3. I know someone who has broken her arm TWICE stumbling over sidewalks while talking on her cell phone. And the other day I was at a restaurant and saw a dad on his cell phone the whole time I was there; he was with his son who was probably no more than five years old. The whole time the poor kid was just vacantly staring into space while he was eating. I felt really sad for him.

  4. That breaks my heart. And the thing is, it's a whole new generation of people who only know how to relate to people in their online circle. It's not real life. And, like you saw, kids who are taught that whatever is going on online is more important than them. This is how the computers take over! They lull us into believing they're more important!!!