There are some stickers in place downtown which have caught my attention more than once. They read: “Technology is Making Us Stupid.” Technology sure has impacted our lives in a big way, but is stupid really the right term? Better put, perhaps it’s that it has exceeded our ability to not have it be destructive in unforeseen ways. And that coupled with an addictive quality to it as it changes our lives, we change our lives to fit its newly opened options.
As with email, I was very slow to move on to Facebook, just getting on last December. I have tried to be analytical as to how it has affected my life. A time eater, yes; but in both the constructive and in the frivolous at the same time. But what have I given up to make room for it? I read less serious reading, though I am still learning things, some of it is in the form of amusing bits of disassociated opinion and analysis. How about communication and technology? There are less conversations and more short messages which are received as words on screens, which can be functionally good but also subject to misinterpretation and lacking in further information which a conversation might have brought forth.
It is ironic that technology has given us vastly more communication power, which if devoted to positive social change functions could really help build a better world, yet instead people seem less inclined to use it that way. I always am amazed to think back to the early civil rights movement days and all that was achieved without cell phones or photocopy capability, without computers or email. It was phone trees, snail mail, and most importantly, commitment. Commitment to the cause, to your sisters and brothers in the cause, and to do what you said you’d do.
Now it’s all kinda fuzzy and fluid. Granted, some of this is because, again due to technology, there are so many other things going on, even on the organizing front, but also the undreamt of distractions we have at our fingertips and in our homes. Games, movies, sports and YouTube are right there just clicks away. In Huxley’s Brave New World, it was Soma, a drug, which kept people preoccupied and pacified. Now we can indulge in sensory stimulation via our electronic toys, and the marketing geniuses employed by big corporations are more than willing to dish it to us.
In the movie Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Chomsky touches on sports and the attention paid to them. He points out that these devoted sports fans are not stupid, that they actually keep track of a lot of information and details. It is the priorities and interests they have which make them value that form of knowledge over, say, climate change or wealth inequality. It is not technology making us stupid; it is our seduction to its siren call.
Despite the fact that our bowling scores are now kept automatically, and that little GPS devices are replacing maps, I still want to have hope that we humans can do better, if only building on a sense of community and culture in the towns and cities we live in. I feel we are doing that here, in spite of the recent squabbles regarding elections, the proposed Plum Creek development and the Citizens Co-op, which have put factions of our progressive community at odds with one another. Using technology appropriately, to enhance and improve your life and that of others, is not rocket science. But it is a challenge and takes commitment.