Life Renewed

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My thoughts on a world in love with technology

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person from my generation who feels that technology has actually done more to complicate — rather than simplify — our lives. I wonder if I’m the only one who finds it disconcerting just how addicted we are to instant communication and worrisome that we spend so much of our time in the virtual world. I’m old enough to say that I remember life before the internet but not so old that I lived most of my life without it. Despite the fact that I can navigate my way around most computers with relative ease, I often feel like a grandma among my peers. Why? Because while others are concentrating on how they can pull themselves closer to the world of technology, I’m wondering what I can do to push myself farther from it.

Let me explain. I love technology. I love that I can listen to podcasts of my favorite radio programs or watch TV shows days, weeks — even months — after they’ve aired. I love that I can get news from anywhere on the planet at any time of day. I like knowing about big events in my friend’s lives moments after they take place. And let’s be honest, I love that I can type my symptoms into a computer to diagnose my own illnesses (can you say hypochondriac?) or Google my latest debate with my sister to prove that, once again, I’m right. But in the midst of my increasing reliance on, and gratefulness for, technology, I also have a growing unease about the role we allow it to play in our lives.

Ours is a hyper-connected world — we’re constantly plugged in to an endless stream of information that is taking many of us to interesting, often beneficial, places. But if we’re not vigilant in our use of technology, I think we run the risk of unwittingly allowing this stream to carry us away. Recent history shows that as a society, we’re pretty quick to accept new innovations and integrate them into our lives. Our ability to adapt and change with the times is part of what makes us human. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if, in our eagerness to improve our lives through technology, we’re failing to recognize the sacrifices that technology demands of us.

Simply stated, we only have so much time and attention to dole out. While technology may increase our efficiency, it also demands our time and attention. And sometimes, I think we fail to realize that for everything we add to our lives, we must also give something up. That’s just how it works. This principle isn’t unique to technology — it’s true of any venture we pursue — but I find it particularly important where technology is concerned, because technology is beginning to infiltrate every area of our lives. I recently heard someone on NPR saying that nearly everything we do today is virtual. I wanted to argue with him, but generally speaking, he’s right. This worries me. It worries me, because the more involved we become in the virtual world, the less engaged we will be with the real one. A fascinating infographic detailing the world’s obsession with Facebook recently reported that 57 percent of people talk to others more online than they do in real life. Again, the more time we spend in the virtual world, the more opportunities we’ll miss out on in the real one.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI shared his opinion of social networking in a speech entitled “Truth, Proclamation, and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age.” While I’ve not succeeded in finding a complete transcript of his speech, what I gather from the summaries is that he condoned social networks as something that can add value to our lives, while also issuing a strong warning of what he sees as their dangers. The Pope made it very clear that we must use wisdom and caution in the way we engage in social networks, asking: “Is there a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world ‘other’ than the one in which we live?”

I think that, in the digital age, we’d all benefit from using this question as a microscope with which to examine our own lives. Is the technology we use enhancing our lives or simply absorbing our attention? Where is our focus? I’m not here to bash social networks or suggest that we give up on technology and join the Amish. Instead, I’m imploring us to evaluate the technology we do use and ask if it’s truly adding to our lives. This is an ongoing process. In our fast-paced world, this question will never get old. And the answers aren’t the same for everyone. The things that enable you to live your life more effectively may prove to be a distraction for me. But a good rule of thumb, if you’re wondering what you might need to limit — or eliminate altogether — is to examine where your time and attention are focused. Do a systems check to see how grounded you are in the real world. Ask yourself if your life has become more complicated as a result of your technology usage. Are you struggling to maintain friendships in the physical world, while constantly stressing over the nuances your virtual relationships? Are you sitting at the computer, wondering why you don’t have as much time as you used to? Are you reading about your friend’s days on Facebook, wondering why you’ve lost touch with your family?

It’s when we don’t stop to ask these kinds of questions that I think technology becomes dangerous. When it comes down to it, technology is just a tool. It can be used well, or it can be misused. Using it correctly requires purpose and attention. And I think the benefits of technology are worth it — worth taking the time to regularly sit down and evaluate the risks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post a link to this blog on Facebook.

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Written by liferenewed

February 4, 2011 at 4:33 am

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