Learning to Love (But Not Obsess Over) Technology

Change can be a scary thing. Over the the past century alone our world has been shaped by countless changes: we’ve experienced two global wars, discovered new realms of practical and theoretical science, and watched in real-time as human beings left footprints on the surface of the moon. The Industrial Revolution catapulted us towards technological singularity: today it’s difficult to imagine a world without credit cards or pocket computers. Considering how long it took us to reach this point as a species, one begins to wonder: what kind of effect is this rapid change having on our relatively primitive brains? Is technology moving too quickly for the human mind to keep up? And perhaps more importantly, will we reach a point where technology will no longer adapt to our behaviors but force us to adapt to its behaviors?

I was lucky enough to be born in a generation where accessible, affordable computer technology was just entering the home. One of my earliest memories on a computer was my parents’ Hewlett-Packard running Windows 3.1. Somehow I dug my way into the user settings and managed to not only change the default user’s password, but immediately forget what I changed it to. Granted I was about 5 years old and had little idea of what I was doing other than “click the shiny thing”, but I quickly learned that at that time you could actually break a computer if you didn’t know what you were doing (that being said, modern operating systems are becoming increasingly difficult to break and will typically prompt you about a dozen times before you change just about anything). I grew up learning how to work, play, and learn on the beige boxes of early personal computers, so I recognize my own inherent bias in favor of technology and its impact. Computers have become a staple of modern living and, like it or not, they’re here to stay.

Computers are all around us. They influence our lives, our thoughts, and our actions. Despite their pervasiveness, it’s important not to get trapped into thinking of computers as the greatest thing since sliced bread, or as the end of the world as we know it. When faced with thoughts like theses, here are some quick and easy reminders to bring yourself back to the present reality:

  1. Technology moves faster than you or I. Obsessing over the new Apple iToy or the Samsung Universe 14 is just setting yourself up for failure. Devices go through several long phases of quality control, inspection, and regulation before they’re released to the general public. This means that the state-of-the-art gizmo that was just released is already obsolete.
  2. Technology is just another tool. Computers are meant to make our lives easier, not harder. Their utility lies in their versatility, since they can be adapted to perform an infinite variety of tasks and services. Although they may seem like magic to some people, computers obey the same laws of physics that you and I adhere to.
  3. Technology is flawed. As a human invention, computers are prone to errors, exaggerations, and egos. While they’re becoming increasingly efficient at what they do their development is guided by people who have their own interests and their own ideals, many of which get embedded into the core of the product.

Together, these reminders are meant to target some of the most common behaviors people associate with computers – addiction and phobia – and balance them out into a moderate respect and acknowledgment of technology’s presence. That is:

  • Try not to fear technology because it’s different from what you’re used to. It’s not some separate reality resigned to the realm of scientists and super-geniuses. Modern computers are designed to make life easier for the average person.
  • Try not to let technology become the focus of your life, especially if it’s acting as an escape or substitution.
  • Do use technology to responsibly augment, enhance, or enrich the activities of your everyday life.

All the while, try to remain aware of how technology affects your everyday experiences and whether or not the addition is truly helping.

Nobody is truly an expert on the computer. Most professionals specialize in a particular area, such as circuit design or software development. That being said, having a basic appreciation for computer technology is something anyone can accomplish with just a bit of patience and insight. Remember, the goal isn’t to revere the computer as the next phase of human existence, but to appreciate its contributions to modern living and the contributions that went into it. My generation had the benefit of growing up with computers and, despite the advancements in speed and capacity, computers haven’t really changed much since. Yes components have shrunken and gotten more efficient, but the underlying concepts are fundamentally the same. Yet the way we use computers has changed so drastically that we’re capable of doing things we couldn’t even dream of 15 years ago. Streaming live video to palm-sized devices was the talk of futurists, eccentrics, and TV show writers, but now it’s an everyday activity.

I’m not asking you to embrace technology. I’m only asking you to be aware of its presence and its impact on the world around you.

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