The Technology Trap.

Posted: November 13, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

I recently got my first Smart Phone, a development that stunned my friends, some of whom thought I’d never get one. I didn’t really even decide to get a Smart Phone; my cell phone plan expired, and I was eligible for an upgrade. I’m certainly not a Luddite, so I’ll take any upgrade available. The phone is nice, certainly new and shiny. I am still determining how it works, and suppose I will be for some time. However, I never expect technology to “change” my life; at best, new technology might be able to provide tools to simplify tasks and augment human capacity (of course, technology has been known to serve the opposite purposes, too).

I like my Smart Phone just fine, and the newness of it means that the camera performs better than the digital one I’ve had for at least a decade. When comparing Smart Phones before purchasing one, I prioritized the authenticitycamera because I love taking what I call “Fun Family Photos,” posting the best online, and printing out the truly great ones to fill magnetic frames on my refrigerator or to give as gifts to friends and family. For as many pictures as there are online, the scarcity of printed photos seems rather odd, and I do my best to preserve the tradition of displaying pictures of loved ones in my home. New technology does not require abandoning old ways.

I don’t invest much time or money in technology. There are two primary causes for this peculiar behavior. First of all, I don’t have much discretionary income. If you’ve been told that academia is overflowing with high salaries and annual bonuses, you were misinformed. Thus, in large part, the small number of technological devices I own stems from a lack of purchasing power, and also a desire to use my limited funds for things I consider more valuable, typically travel and visits with friends.

More fundamentally, I don’t gain much from the time I spend online. In the essay “Is There a There in Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow addresses the often unmentioned limitations of the online world: “missing entirely, [are things] like body language, sex, death, tone of voice, clothing, beauty (or homeliness), weather, violence, vegetation, wildlife, pets, architecture, music, smells, sunlight, and that ol’ harvest moon. In short, most of the things that make my life real to me.” Interacting with people, for all their messiness and complications, is central to my well-being, and my relationship to the natural world informs a spiritual awareness of my place in the universe. Authentic experiences are my priority.

I like to limit my screen time, essentially because I’d rather be doing something else. I use Facebook, but not every day, and usually with the intention of maintaining and developing connections with the people in my life. I update my status to share the highlights of life with people who care. This is not to say that the way I use Facebook, or technology as a whole, is the “right” way and everyone else has it wrong; rather, it is the right balance for me. The brilliant Sherry Turkle, founder of MIT’s “Initiative on Technology and Self” and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other has proffered the notion of a “digital diet,” which involves taking an honest assessment of the amount of technology that might be reasonable in each particular life. Naturally, a computer programmer ought to expect to spend a lot of time in front of a computer while a forest ranger should anticipate spending far less, though still some. For the most part, I need only spend time in front of a computer at work, thus alleviating the necessity for a home computer.

screenjail(1)My concerns about the excessive use of technology arise primarily from the amount of time my students spend texting friends, checking social media, and browsing images online, all while they are supposed to be paying attention in class. Again, I am not suggesting that these activities in themselves are wrong, but the pervasiveness of the behaviors troubles me. Many of my students simply don’t seem capable of turning away from their devices. When I am in class teaching, my phone is always off, locked in my desk. Naturally, I have plenty of friends I could contact, but what I can do and what I should do are different things, a reality of adulthood that an over-reliance on technology tends to undermine. In class, I need to focus on the lesson, the students, the time and space we have together, and what we can accomplish together. I use technology in the classroom, but in a way that supports our joint purpose: to develop intellectual capacity. I’m also a proponent of online course materials because printing out copies of a ten-page syllabus isn’t necessary. However, I absolutely believe that paying attention to the people who populate our world (classmates, colleagues, neighbors, and family) is a fundamental human activity. We must not allow technology to distract us from the people in our midst.

When I see my students (or friends, or myself) turning to online social networks or texting to fill a void, I sense the vibrations of a wordless cry for help, subliminally broadcasting the central human need for connection, but in a dissociative way. “Entertain me, distract me,” we beg of our machines, oftentimes because engaging with what is in front of us, be it people or problems, requires more effort and investment. See Louis CK’s insightful and heart-rending rant. Sadly, technology can facilitate a turning away from one another, making us all feel more alone.

I try to resist the technology trap. I seek to be a constructive, critical user of advanced technology, endeavoring to master technological skills that can enhance my professional and personal life and support my relationships, never permitting technology to master me.

  1. Brett Worker says:

    Technology has really changed the way people function in the year 2013. My point of view is it is for the worse and the better in many different ways. We have the ability to research, communicate, play games, take pictures all in the palm of your hand which makes the world open up to a whole new genre of ideas. However, the negative side of advancing with all this new technology is people lose site of the important things in life which is experiencing the things put on the earth originally. It changes the way people communicate with one another. An example is no one calls people anymore its just texts and pictures sent back and forth which loses the true personality of an individual.

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