Living with Technology

It seems I am always wrestling with technology, in one way or another.  Often I think I am too old for it all – my brain hasn’t been properly “formatted” to use it well.  It seems like younger people take to electronic communication the way we took to cars, leaving our parents behind.  It wasn’t that they didn’t have them, but their way of using them was based in an older way of living, and we took it all to a new level, working a massive change in the culture.  Now it’s happening again.  Still.  And we are being left behind.

A lot has been written about the comparative benefits and evils of the technological explosion that we are experiencing.  I think the most important realization is that our technological knowledge is expanding at a  much faster pace than our moral/ethical wisdom can keep up with.  In fact, “scientific” knowledge threatens to take over as the only real or valuable knowledge, leaving theology, morality, metaphysics, the arts, etc. consigned to the dustbin.

Kim and Karin have recently opened up this subject under the thread, “Avatar.”  I think Karin’s last posting, suggesting a need for teaching the younger generation how to control the technology of their world, is a good place to start a new conversation, so I am re-posting it below:

I love what Kim said about “time”.  I get nostalgic sometimes for the feeling of the nineteen-fifties.  (Yes, I’m REALLY old)  Things were much slower then—particularly childhood.  I look forward to Susan’s story about fifth grade to see if it incorporates any of the thinking of that time.  It took TIME to dial a rotary phone.  Now that I have a six-year-old granddaughter, I fear for her in reference to the evils of the Internet.  In a way, this technology will make her more vulnerable because children can be inappropriately open in their on-line communications, and their lives can be ruined in many ways.  And to Kim’s point about “boundaried” communication (love that word!), I do think texting and twittering are very shallow, and work against the development of beautiful language and endearing relationships, as she said.  In many cases, the twitterer now is more interested in getting a huge following rather than in saying anything particularly profound.  On the other hand, perhaps there is a place for texting because it sends (sometimes) important information fast.  (Witness the recent bad guys at NVC, and the ability of the administration to let the whole campus know quickly that they were there.)  You know, this opens a door to another “catch-up and clean-up” result of technological development. doesn’t it?  Now that we do have all these forms of communication, perhaps someday, (in the public school?) the appropriateness of each one in each setting must be comprehended, or one is set up for failure.  Also, the appropriateness of opening up to others we barely know and its consequences must be understood.   For instance,   “U R right 4 me” may go over okay in a modern-day valentine), but not when sending off a resume to a potential employer.  Of course, the “sweetie” receiving this valentine, may not think there is much depth of feeling there, either,  (or an anonymous he/she may read TOO much into it) as Kim said.    Anyone want to sign up for my class in “Modern Communication—How, When, and Where to Use It”?  Ha Ha.

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5 Responses to Living with Technology

  1. Susan says:

    A friend sent me some comments on this subject with which I think many of us will agree – she wants to remain anonymous but said I could “lift” some to put in, so here it is:

    I think about all the time, energy and thinking it takes a away from our Lord. Young people are using it to get into all sorts of trouble in their personal lives, etc etc. That being said, if it is used with the Lord as our guide and our teacher and the basis of our life it can be a good thing, communications with others, etc. etc. Unfortunately I think they are forgetting about our faith and turning to “fun and games” and it takes up too much of their time. I watch my grandkids who come over and sit and watch their IPods. I can’t even have a conversation with them anymore except at dinner table where IPods are forbidden. I don’t know what the eventual consequences will be but I am sure there will be some, and I don’t think they will be good. Someone wrote a book about Closing of the American Mind – I am proposing this will be the Lulling of the American Mind.

  2. I agree with all of the above. Amen.
    I am also concerned that a dumbing down of the language is occurring as we use shorthand to communcate. With a dumbing down – emoticons, symbols, etc. – we lose the ability to think about what we are saying. We become lazy and prone and vulnerable to sound bytes – quick phrases that elect presidents, form public opinion, and control the populace. In order for a democracy to survive it must have an educated and THINKING electorate, and this trend in language debasement is deeply troubling.
    I just received my first lesson in emoticons – those smileys, etc. – and the writer explained that we need these now because Internet discussions are like real conversations. Therefore, folks need to know how you are feeling, your tone of voice, etc. Hence smileys or frowns or whatever. Essentially what he is saying is that we have lost the words to convey these emotions in writing.
    Beware of language loss and manipulation.
    Granted, we are communicating more (right here and now for example), but I wonder that the price may be too high.
    There is also the problem of false authorities – that because we write something we are an authority. Not so, yet millions now see themselves as such.
    But then, there is God. And in the end, as long as our priorities are right, it will all come right.

  3. Susan says:

    So, how do we live with technology in a healthy way? What antidotes do you use? What kinds of self-discipline work for you? Is it possible to be in control of the technology in your life?

  4. Matthew Roberts says:

    An interesting topic. I have many ideas buzzing around in my head, but I will try to be brief.

    There seems to be a tendency, I think, for older generations to lament the “moral decline” of young people. It is a recurrent theme throughout history. The sexual and cultural revolution of the Sixties shocked and outraged older generations, who decried the “falling standards” of society, and considered popular music immoral. How innocent those songs sound now! (“I want to hold your haa-aaa-aaand.”) Phrases like “Things were better in my day”, “Those were the days”, and their many variants, I have come to dislike. A fond yearning for the days of one’s youth is not surprising, but it is a view that conveniently overlooks the less agreeable aspects of life back then. The 1950s *was* a wonderful era in many ways, but in others it really was not. Racial inequality was rife in the US and elsewhere; women were still largely confined to the kitchen. The same can go for other idealised eras, in which standards of living were generally poorer, poverty, hunger and disease was rife, and people endured wars and periods of severe economic depression. (I am speaking from a British standpoint here, but the argument holds for elsewhere, too.)

    There also seems to be a propensity among some to demonise science, which I think is unfair. Science merely provides us with the tools and the methods to further knowledge. What humans do with that knowledge is another thing. We are prone to use all forms of knowledge for bad as well as good (and incomplete knowledge is a problem in itself). We are placing increasing importance on scientific thought and discovery, it is true, but all that means is that we are looking to evidence on which to base our beliefs, which to me is no bad thing. I, for one, am grateful for the gifts of science, medicine and technology.

    I won’t get into theology here, but I disagree that philosophy, the arts and other areas of knowledge are being consigned to the dustbin. These are still much-valued disciplines. The influence of the scientific method can, of course, be seen in these areas, but again, that is not always a bad thing. I can never understand why “evidence” is so often seen as a dirty word.

    As a linguistics student, I agree with the sentiments expressed regarding “netspeak”; it offends my sensibilities, and I rarely, if ever, use it, even in text messages. An important lesson you come to learn from the study of linguistics, however, is that languages evolve. Maintaining standards is important, but attempts to prevent change, to halt evolution, is pointless. Many purist movements have tried, especially during the influx of loan words from other languages (the “Inkhorn controversy” is particularly interesting). Had they succeeded, we would have been denied many of the words that make the English language as expressive and beautiful and as fascinating as we find it today.

    That isn’t to say that I want English to evolve along the lines of netspeak. Nor do I think it will. Online culture will lend to the language in much the same way that other phenomena has, but I don’t think, in twenty, fifty, a hundred years’ time, we wil all b tlkn lyk dis lol. Twittering might be shallow, but it is to blogging as telegrams were to letters. Technology enables people to communicate all over the world, in many different ways. Grandparents in Canada can write to, can talk to, can even see (on a webcam) their grandchildren in Australia, and all for free. (O, the wonders of Skype!) Personally, I have made some wonderful friends online. Of course, precautions need to be taken, particularly where children are concerned. We need to adapt to new technology, to new discoveries, and we do. This isn’t the first technological explosion we have experienced: the biggest and most revolutionary explosion of technology, arguably, was the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, and we adapted to the many goods and evils and moral dilemmas that this threw up. The key is adapting to change, not fighting it.

    So much for being brief! My apologies for such a long-winded post.

  5. Susan says:

    Matt, thanks for a thoughtful post. You are right – the “What is the younger generation coming to?” attitude is pretty universal across generations. (Although a case could be made that paying attention to the older generation might be worth doing).

    One statement you made, I think, is key: ” Science merely provides us with the tools and the methods to further knowledge. What humans do with that knowledge is another thing.” I have read in various places, and agree, that our knowledge of science is far outstripping our wisdom (including moral and ethical thinking). And I do think there is a decline in the cultural status of “wisdom.” Our people used to know much more of the wisdom that is transmitted through the liberal arts because it was taught in our public schools and inculcated from an early age through college. I don’t decry the teaching of science, but I do long for a populace that knows its Greek philosophers, its Shakespeare, its civics, and so on, as well. Such people are much better equipped to, as you say, adapt to the challenges of technology.

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