Yesterday, I had several frustrating hours of technological failures. It started off with the internet dropping out and ended with a job application website logging me out and deleting all of the information I had uploaded over the course of a half hour. Needless to say, I was on edge all day and finally had the last straw. Of course, nothing that happened yesterday that couldn’t be cured by a large margarita and chat with one of my friends, but it got me thinking about the role technology plays in our lives and whether or not it is good for us.
On the one hand, I love technology. I own a iPhone, an iPod, a fabulous Apple laptop that I am in love with, a Blu-ray DVD player, and an HD tv. In my household, each person has their own computer, we share a hybrid car with an electrical plug in the back seat, and regularly play Wii games. Admittedly, technology makes our lives easier. I was able to work on the internet in the doctor’s office yesterday because my iPhone created a wireless hotspot for my laptop. When my friend moves back to Pakistan in August, I will be able to chat with her face-to-face whenever I want via Skype. It’s not just the hi-tech toys that we’ve become used to though. Think about all of the simple things we used to do fifteen years ago. I remember waiting by the phone (which was attached to the wall with a cord) for a friend to ring me and make plans for a sleepover, looking up viewing times for shows on television in TV Guide and actually watching them when they aired, and writing essays for school in long hand because everyone didn’t own a computer.
Whatever happened to the simpler days? Everything wasn’t instantaneous. People got letters in the mail other than bills and catalogs. Go further back and people had an appreciation for the little things like electricity or running water. If you’ve forgotten, I posted several months ago about my misadventures with hand-heating water for my bath, and have a deep appreciation for hot water furnaces and pipes. That being said, I can’t help being nostalgic about decades pre-modern convenience. Whenever the power goes out, which at my childhood home in New York used to be practically every time a storm passed through, I actually enjoy reading by candlelight and conversing with my family. Besides a romanticized notion of times of old, walking down a corridor in a long dress with candlestick in hand, I think moments or evenings sans technology bring people closer together and foster the development of what is becoming a lost art in the age of social networking sites and internet dating: face-to-face conversation.
I actually considered creating my own experiment of living without technology, although it never came to fruition. This experiment involved completely cutting myself off from social networking sites, my phone, my computer, television, and any technology created after say, 1930. I was going to allow myself to take phone calls from my landline and maybe to listen to the radio, but to cut myself off from the modern world. Of course, this was slightly impractical, especially with the amount of information that we ingest each day. If I completed the experiment in a week, I’d have approximately 300 e-mails and various irate friends who couldn’t contact me when I wasn’t at home.
Although my attempt at experimenting with what used to be the norm (some of which was in my rather young lifetime) didn’t make it past the paper outline I’d drawn up, the very fact that I couldn’t give up technology says something. People are so reliant on technology for everything today. I actually got annoyed yesterday when my tethered wifi hotspot internet connection caused a window on my browser to take about a minute to load. Anyone remember dial-up? When did instant gratification become expected?
At lunch today, Indigo and I discussed the positive sides to technology. Just writing a college paper is a miracle of modern ingenuity. I recall using a card catalog when writing a report in elementary school. Now, all you have to do is click a button on the internet to search for resources in a library catalog, not to mention the availability of thousands of journal article abstracts and full text files available in the blink of an eye. Think about the last time you used a dictionary. Not Dictionary.com, not to mention Wikipedia, but a paperback dictionary to look up something you didn’t know. Imagine trying to figure out who the Roman god of mold was without the internet.* You would have to first find the right source to look for the information and then look up the fact itself, all at your neighborhood library. While I wholeheartedly encourage you to still use your library (reference is FUN!), little facts like this can be found fast and conveniently today. If you are a member of my family, easy access can settle a WWIII size argument and is a valuable tool.
My gripe is mainly that a lot of the niceties and pleasures of pre-technology eras have been lost with new inventions. I’d love to bring back calling cards and wax seals for envelopes. Even though we need and enjoy technology, it is still possible to spend a game night with your family, to have dinner with someone without texting at the table, or to write a letter to a friend. People just don’t do these things anymore and that is what makes me sad. Please, can we try to bring back the past just a little bit?
Technology; frustrating to live with it, but can’t live without it.
* That would be Robigus, in case you were wondering. Yes, I had to know this several years ago during my college career as a Classics major.