The Tradeoffs of Technology

She was the only one that looked up.

That’s how I noticed her. At the health-kick food joint that I was standing in, my fellow waiting customers were on their phones. I counted one, two, four, seven. Seven inhabitants, clueless of the world except for the glue that connected them directly to the magical little devices they were holding in their hands.

But she wasn’t. She stood close against the banister leading to the downstairs room, looking around quietly and objectively while taking in the restaurant, the people, the waiting. The others existed, but she lived. She glowed in her silent observing.

She looked up.

And I looked back.

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Isn’t it amazing to think about what the world was like before?  Before… technology?

Nowadays, on public transportation, people are on their phones. In movie theaters before the movie starts (or sometimes, at points during), people are on their phones. During group or solo lunches or dinners, people are on their phones. At work, at home, at stores, at the pedestrian crosswalk, in the pedestrian crosswalk… people are on their phones.

What did people do before?

It was so different.

In truth, I feel like we have lost some part of ourselves. Specifically, we’ve lost… the togetherness of being. We’ve lost the waiting together at a bus station or train station, the sharing of the moment. Both the appeal and convenience of technology have made it become so much more of a conscious decision to get to know a stranger during that wait, of sharing a joint laugh from observing something across the landscape, of learning someone’s name, someone’s life story, because after all, we’re always on our phones. We’ve lost the camaraderie of being with others in restaurant wait lines and rollercoaster wait lines and store wait lines and every other wait line, because we decide to catch up on the news or our texts or a friend’s Instagram account. We’ve lost the chance to connect with someone, as is so wired into our nature as humans, because each of our focuses is already on something else – you guessed it, our phones. In an Edge.org article on how the Internet is changing the way we think, the author Douglas Rushkoff acutely states, “[…] I am increasingly in a distracted present, where forces on the periphery are magnified and those immediately before me are ignored.” And he’s surely not the only one.

What can we do to remedy this?

I suppose first it is necessary to acknowledge that yes, there are benefits to this highly connected way of life, of course. You can accomplish so much on phones – read the news, read a book, watch a video, text a friend, make a call (almost forgot this one! Isn’t it interesting how far down the list it is?), and so on. I mean, there is even the need to have articles that describe less well-known tricks that your phone does, such as this Fox News article on “10 awesome things you didn’t know your phone did”. And yes, that is pretty amazing.

But how do we get the best of both worlds – still utilize our phones as the technology deserves, but also utilize our human nature – our abilities to connect? To be, without technology?

For one? Self-awareness. We acknowledge that this is the world as it is now, and that we have to make an extra effort to not let it overwhelm us. That it’s okay, in fact, ideal, to take time away from technology, such as having a meal where everyone mutually agrees to put away his or her phone. Even a small step helps, such as putting your phone facedown on your bedspread for one hour in a day, which is surprisingly freeing. In a Miss Millennia Website article titled “What Did We Do Before Technology?” the author Karin Brown remarks, “I like to keep a road map book in my car,” just in case. It’s little things like these that still give me hope.

Furthermore, we need to recognize technology’s limits. We’ve become so used to instant gratification, me included, that it’s scary. People survived without technology years and years ago, and yet here we are today, with toddlers who perhaps play on iPads more than they play outside, and people who are loath to go for a day without their phones (again, me included). I’ve found that often I am apt to use my phone when I am bored or waiting, and this doesn’t seem to be the best course of action. (Just like with social media, but that’s a topic for another blog post.) On top of this, in the same Miss Millennia Website article mentioned above, Brown muses, “But is it possible that […] relying on technology for communication has made us less personal?” and I completely agree. In another Edge.org article on how the Internet is changing the way we think, the authors Raqs Media Collective observe in passing, “We are [talking to and] listening to strangers all the time.” And although the Internet has its benefits, you have to admit the truth of this statement, made all the more striking for its blunt simplicity.

All of this, though, is the new normal. Or perhaps it is the old normal, since it’s been around for awhile now. Everything loops back to perspective (which you can read about in other blog posts soon). And regardless of anything, this whole discussion is pretty interesting indeed.

With technology, we’ve gained and we’ve lost. In a way, that’s all of life.

But perhaps the next time you realize this, you remember this, you become aware of this… try getting off of your phone or computer or tablet for a bit. Look up; look down; look all around you. What you see may surprise you.

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