Sunday, August 1, 2010

Worshiping at the Altar of Technology

I was chatting with the manager of our local diner. He was frustrated trying to peck out a text message to one of his waitresses to see if she could come in to help out. "I would call her..." he said, "...but they never return phone calls, a text message is all they respond to." And so the world continues to change at an ever increasing pace. I used to pride myself on keeping up with technology, but I have given up. It's not so much that I can't learn the newer stuff, it's just that I don't see the point. Why should I have to laboriously type in a message in "text-speak" on a keypad the size of a pack of gum when I can just push one button and call you? If you're not available to answer I can leave a voice message and you can call me back. Why would you respond to a text message where you have to push tiny keys to answer me when you can just push a button and say "hello."

It's almost as if we've become so enamored with the technology that we forget it's supposed to make things easier for us. When I talk to you on the phone, I can ask or answer any follow up questions or clarify the communication as needed. With texting we need to send messages back and forth to do this, and it seems like a much less convenient and efficient way of effectively communicating. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against progress if it makes my life easier, I just resist technology for its own sake when there is no apparent benefit. Technology producers count on this blind fascination people have with gadgets. They are willing to spend thousands for Gizmo II whether or not it is really any better than Gizmo I. They actually show up with lawn chairs to wait in line at midnight so they can be the first to own Gizmo II when the doors open in the morning. Disturbing, no?

Let's back up a few decades. When telephones only came in clunky, ugly land lines with a rotary dial, they may not have looked cool but there was a major advance in communications. Technology made it possible to speak with someone without dragging your butt over to his house and ringing the bell. I'll take one of those. Moving ahead, the cell phone makes its appearance, and I can rest easier knowing if my car breaks down, I or my loved ones can call for help. Sign me up. Now it starts getting iffy. For example, do I need to download music to my cell phone or get stock market alerts sent to me? Who am I...Warren Buffet? Do I need Internet access, Mapquest or GPS software on my cell phone? At some point we cross the line from practical to marginal useful to just plain silly.

Here's another example. When television was introduced it was a sensation. Generations of people used to listening to the radio could now see their favorite performers right in their living rooms. The television was so revered that it was encased in fancy wooden cabinets and given a place of honor in the family home. Then came color TV, portable TVs for every room, plasma and HDTV, all advancing the technology of the basic concept of television, yet still with some noticeable improvement in making life better for viewers. Then we crossed the line. It is now possible to download movies to your cell phone. Why? Do you whip up some popcorn and gather the gang around your cell phone for family movie night? Who the hell wants to watch a full-length movie on a 3-inch screen. Big step backwards, yet it can cost you big bucks for the privilege.

Another beef I have with technology is that it tends to isolate people. Back in the day when I had to ring your doorbell to talk to you, I got to see you in person. I can read things in face-to-face communications that I can't see in phone calls or text messages. Not as convenient, but maybe more friendly. I also think kids are too prone to sit in their rooms with the laptop, cell phone and video games instead of getting outside and actually spending time building friendships and social skills. Child psychologists have full waiting rooms because kids can't relate to or interact with other kids. It's what we used to call "playing." We need human contact to learn about others and how to get along with them. Too many kids rely on electronic contacts and miss out on this very important facet of growing up.

Finally, being a full-time worrier, I'm concerned that the technology we develop to download our music or thaw out our frozen pizza with be used by some fanatic to detonate bombs. I know, I know, paranoia isn't healthy, but who ever thought a bunch of fumbling terrorists could manage to bring down the two greatest monuments to technology ever built by modern man.


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1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Two things:

1) You are absolutely right, you could ring a doorbell, or a phone and communicate better.

B) Get ride of that ugly TV set you show, small children read these things

Once again, great blog!