On refusing to succumb to the lures of technology for the sake of it, or to embrace the mass marketing of useless little trinkets which purport to make our lives easier but only seem to make them more complicated.
By Ben Bull
Published December 22, 2010
A few years ago I was at an Intel conference in Toronto. The Intel CEO was rambling on about his chips - all the usual boasts about Moore's Law and how Intel is saving the planet and blah blah blah.
It occurred to me, as I watched the PowerPoint slides whiz along on the screen - smiling suits tapping away on their laptops, factory robots making candies, cars and more computers - that there didn't seem to be much of a social benefit to any of this technology.
During the entire 20 minute or so presentation, I counted only two slides showing how technology is currently making life easier for less fortunate folks.
During the Q&A session there was only one question I wanted to ask: "How is all this technology making our lives easier?"
But I didn't. I was probably too tired. At the time of the conference I was working a 50 hour week.
My boss's Blackberry wasn't helping him with my workload - it was only adding to it ("I can email you anywhere!"). And while my Intel powered laptop was fast, it was useless at running meetings and authoring my reports. Like most of my IT Tech colleagues, I was getting further and further behind.
Ten years later, my experience, and my opinion, hasn't changed. I've evolved into an 'anti-technologist'. I don't live in a hut or anything and I'm still working in IT. I own a computer and a cell phone.
But I refuse to succumb to the lures of technology for the sake of it, or to embrace the mass marketing of useless little trinkets which purport to make our lives easier but only seem to make them more complicated.
The other day I was sat in the pub with my friends. As I tried to steer the conversation towards the Premiership, the weather in the UK and what we were all doing for Christmas, I realized I was not alone:
"I see that Sunderland are sixth in the table."
"They got a nice result the other day."
"That's nice, click, bleep...What?"
Phil was playing with his new iPhone and he had the same wide-eyed little boy enthusiasm that I had when ripped the wrapping paper off my new skateboard 30 odd years ago.
Greg, a more seasoned iPhone user, was just back on the dating scene so his phone was also his mobile calendar and, judging from the mount of clicking and laughing going on from his side of the table, his calendar was filling up fast.
We are still adjusting to this new wave of technology, but if the cell phone is any indicator of where we're going, it isn't anywhere good.
These days it seems to be accepted practice to plan your dinner on the streetcar and Bluetooth birthday greetings to your boyfriend on the way home. We are now so addicted to our cell phones that the government had to step in and legislate us from using them while we drive.
And this brings me to the heart of my antipathy: Technology drives us, we don't drive technology. Sure, we invent it, but it seems we often invent it for 'needs' we never knew existed.
We've done this before, of course. Who knew how the nuclear bomb would shape the world when Rutherford split the atom all those years ago? And what of the combustion engine that brought us so much mobility and now threatens to choke up our lungs, clog up our cities and bring us to a standstill?
Ronald Wright observed these phenomena in his book, A Short History of Progress. He calls these inventions "progress traps" and provides several examples, such as hunting:
The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game.
Today's new inventions are unlikely to have the same impact as enhanced hunting or atom-splitting, but they will impact - and already are impacting - our lives.
The Blackberry, Bluetooth, iPod, iPhone, iPad ... there's a lot of 'I' in these inventions but to be honest, I don't see a lot in there for me.
As I write this my wife just emailed me to tell me her boss has bought her a new Blackberry.
"It was nice knowing you," she joked.
I'm not laughing.
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