Does technology serve us?

Two events converged recently that made me stop and reflect on them before sharing with you. The first event occurred Friday night when Justin and I attended a Friday Night Soiree. If you have never been to one, they’re a great way to spend an evening with like-minded friends old and new, sharing a meal then viewing and discussing a thought-provoking movie. While there are several places around town that host them, we attended one at You Rock Academy in the Corn Hill District. Friday night’s movie was “Man from Earth”… a provocative movie about life, death, immortality and how our inherited beliefs affect our perceptions of the world around us and ultimately on how we choose to live our life. While Justin and I found the topic fascinating, it became too much for some. One couple even left right after the movie! Just as provocative for some, was the discussion that followed the one about the movie; namely, our obsession with technology. While many in the group were passionate in their views that technology was a wonderful means of communicating with the world, I was equally, if not more passionate in my view that our obsession with it is often unhealthy. Perhaps this passion comes from the fact that there was a time when I used technology to isolate myself from the world until I woke up one day to discover that the world was passing me by. That day came when I struggled to find work and had to rely on the kindness of others to help me through it. It was then I realized we could not go through life alone; that we needed to rely on a sense of community to help us through those challenges beyond our control to resolve on our own. This occurs at some point in our lives by design so we learn that there is so much life beyond the four walls we build around us. Often times, technology becomes so convenient that it takes the place of real human interactions. It can isolate us from our family and friends as well as from the very communities that sustain our life and our livelihood.

Evidently I am not the only one who feels disenchanted with our modern times. The second converging event occurred the following night as Justin and I were watching a new BBC series on PBS. “Reggie Perrin” is a British comedy about a middle-aged executive who is dissatisfied with modern day living. The episode that night opened with the title character commuting to work by train. Disenchanted with all his fellow commuters who were connected to technology rather to each other, I found myself cheering Reggie on as he fantasized about using a pair of trimming sheers to cut the cord of the portable device attached to a commuter. I cannot tell you the number of times I have wanted to do something along those lines just to get the attention of the masses. Perhaps this article serves as my set of trimming sheers.

I don’t hate technology … really. In fact it’s been my livelihood for over 30 years. Over the last few years though, it has lost some of its appeal. The sheer convenience of it all makes those already prone to being anti-social another means by which to be antisocial. So many of us are already isolated from our real communities as a result of our jobs, families, daily commutes, and more; this isolation is amplified further as we spend all of our free time building a virtual community one from the comfort of their easy chair and a laptop. Whether at work, school, or at home, many of us IM, text, and e-mail the people we are in contact with rather than calling by phone or conversing face-to-face. While family members may be as physically close to us as the next room, much of our socialization nowadays occurs online with “friends” from the other side. While we have never met them, they get more quality time than our neighbors who live just beyond our front door! This self-imposed isolation reduces the level of intimacy we share with our loved ones and puts our communities and our nation at risk in the event of an emergency.

I know… I know… you are probably thinking I am a bit whacked by now. But consider this. What would happen if you woke up one day to discover that all of this technology no longer worked? When I posed this very question at the Friday’s Soiree, the response was unanimous… “I would rather die as I wouldn’t be able to function without it.” How sad I thought as this is not a fantasy, rather a real possibility. Just a few years ago, there was a heat wave. With so many people using electricity, a regional electrical grid blew out causing a blackout of the entire northeast US for a day. With our dependence on technology even greater now than a few years ago, what would happen if such an event occurred today and lasted weeks or months rather than days? How would the virtual communities we created with our imaginations and our laptops help us then? Thankfully, when the blackout occurred a few years back, we were able to rely on our neighbors and the services available within our communities to sustain us in our hour of need until electricity and the technology that uses it were restored. It was during this “downtime” that our communities came to our rescue. If we do not get out of our easy chairs now and serve our communities in their time of need, a time will come when they will no longer be there to serve us.

So… this leaves me asking…does technology really serve us? Or do we serve it?

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