Monday, July 26, 2010

Technology & Simplicity

I'd like to think that this blog is evidence that the two titular ideas can coexist. Yes, I think machines are sometimes used for evil, but they can also be used for good in a way that no manual task can rival.

Still, there's something that's just not right about it all.

I watched another documentary (I'm way more into real life these days than fiction) called Digital Nation*. It's one from the PBS Frontline series. I watched it when my class was discussing the impact of technology on community. While most people are past the initial fear that the internet will Google-handedly send the world to hell in a handbasket, and while research suggests that social networking does not in fact make us socially inept in the "real world," I cannot escape the disgust I feel when I see two people having dinner together, both on cell phones. I cannot help but make awful faces when I see groups of students (the same students who would probably say that they wished they knew more people on campus) with headphones on, sitting next to each other, not saying a word.

I mean, there is something wrong with that, isn't there? I don't want to be an old fart, and I don't want to be hypocritical either (as I plunk away on a keyboard to a faceless audience), but my instincts tell me that we're missing out on something when we spend so much time plugged in. Mostly, that thing we're missing out on is the ability to appreciate real life. Of course the internet and cell phones and iPods are part of real life, but it's gotten to a point where those gadgets aren't just a part of real life; they are our lives or at least they are our way of life.

What happens when we are faced with the decision to play around on a bright screen with buttons, music, and people who care about our mundane lives or to clean the house or cook a meal or plant something? I know what I choose all too often. It's an addiction, an addiction of ease and self-centeredness. Just like drug addicts will say that real life doesn't give them the high that drugs do, I believe we're getting to the point where things without screens are ceasing to give us joy. The more we get away from the physical world, the emptier we feel, and the more we turn to the internet to stimulate us.

Again, I'm sure this is about finding a balance and using our modern technology to enhance, not govern, our lives. However, it seems that our world demands us to overuse technology. If I leave Facebook, I will not have as much contact with my friends, and some might even be upset with me. It's unrealistic to say that I could just remove myself from all this technology, and it isn't particularly smart of me to do that anyway because I would not be very well equipped to live in today's world. So, how do I find a balance between digital stimulation and real-life stimulation when the scales are tipped? This is a rhetorical question, but it's one that needs asking.

*There's a really interesting part in this program about multitasking. I started to go into it, but it's probably just better if you watch it yourself.


Elly said...

I enjoy facebook to keep up with distant friends, and not-so-distant friends that I might not get to see regularly. I think technology becomes a problem when it is a substitute for real-life interaction. I don't have an ipod because I don't want to cut myself off from the world around me.

I'll have to check out that Frontline episode. My boss is notorious for "multitasking" badly (like doing something on his computer while on a conference call, and then not noticing when a question is directed at him). He even jokes how multitasking is doing several things at once, an all of them badly. Har dee harr. I think multitasking is possible, but not in the way that most people think. For instance, I often listen to NPR while doing boring/mindless things at work like data-entry, or double-checking numbers. I know that my brain can handle those two inputs at once. Usually, I listen to light/classical music when doing routine tasks like pulling reports together. If I REALLY have to concentrate on something, I'll usually turn off the music.

rockygrace said...

There's a TON of kids in my neighborhood - I know, because they all came to my door on Halloween. But on a day-to-day basis, I see very few kids outside playing - I guess they're all inside playing Farmville or something.

Domestic Kate said...

Rocky, I think Farmville is a fascinating example of our modern world. Apparently, it wasn't enough to stray from the land, from physical places and roots; now we've actually created virtual simulations of life on a farm! It's bizarre if you ask me.

Elly, your boss sounds awesome! Yes, I think it depends on the tasks being performed. I often find that I can't think straight if I'm not doing something physical. So, if I want to think through some idea, it's best if I take a walk or something. The program looks mostly at the kind of multitasking that happens when people are using their cell phones while on their laptop while talking with someone in person, etc. They don't look at the kind of multitasking that goes on when you're cooking dinner while watching your child while the news is on in the background.