Enter 1990. If you were around, and into sci-fi during this year, it’s likely you were watching Star Trek “The Next Generation”, and were both fascinated and terrified by the Borg. Maybe the Borg were a commentary on Imperialism or a metaphor for manifest destiny. But when Captain Picard dropped the “Resistance is Futile” bomb, the anxiety it illuminated was the human relationship to technology.
Perhaps it’s on my mind because it's the spring semester. This means, if your life is anything like mine, that schedules are off-the-charts packed. This is because everybody starts to “wake up” after the winter and want to enjoy life. It’s also because everyone who works off of a fiscal year that stretches from July through June realizes that they need to spend their budgets and begin scheduling programs or inviting speakers—all of which are exceptional in quality. There are end of the year convocations, ensemble performances, and celebrations for graduating seniors. All are good, but they add up to at least six events per week.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
The refrain is, perhaps, also on my mind because I spend a lot of my time interacting with people who have smart phones and iPads, for whom going through a day without being significantly connected to the web through mobile technology is something they don’t experience. Honestly, it’s something I rarely experience. Even as I write this—on a laptop in a library—I have two browser windows open, each with several tabs linking me to news sites and monitoring incoming email. And if you’re reading this, you’re online too.
Yesterday, I was glad to receive a text from a very dear friend. When I opened it up, however, the encryption was something my old Samsung flip phone couldn’t interpret. This happens to me more and more regularly—that my decidedly not-smart phone is becoming obsolete. It can still send and receive messages. It can still send and receive calls. But increasingly, it doesn’t always play well with others. Planned obsolescence.
Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ve listened to NPR report about studies regarding brain function in children being changed by their use of technology. Or maybe you’ve read summaries of studies that show, definitively, that multi-tasking is about the least effective strategy for using our time to actually accomplish anything. Maybe you’ve even seen the short film about one person’s experience when she left her iPhone at home one day. And maybe you share a growing anxiety about how effective all of this technology is at helping us live our lives with meaningful connection.
I am blessed with a large posse of far-flung friends who, if it were not for Skype and phones and email, I would not be able to nurture connection. Sure, there’s always the USPS, but who of us has the time to sit down and write a snail-mail letter as often as we want to talk with our friends? Because of this, I’m thankful for the World Wide Web, and Skype, Face Time, and yes—even for Facebook.
It’s through Facebook, in fact, that I encountered this piece from NPR’s All Tech Considered: How A Cold Brew Can Stop You From Checking Your Smartphone. It’s brilliant. It’s simple. It’s totally low-tech.
A glass with a base cut so that it will fall over if not supported by a smartphone, thereby requiring that the phone not be in one’s hand.
I appreciate this design because the proprietors of the bar noticed a disturbing trend and responded by trying to confront the trend head-on. They noticed people not making eye contact, consistently disengaging from one another in a space that is designed to bring people together. So they made a simple adjustment to the design.
The very thing that makes technology exciting—that it changes so quickly and consistently offers us things to make our lives more convenient—is the thing that also makes it maddening when the rate of change and energy required to use the tech ends up making life more complicated.
We all only have 24 hour in a day. We all only get 7 days a week, only 365 days a year. What we fill those days and hours with is entirely our choice. How we decide to foster meaningful connection with people is entirely our choice.
During the remainder of this Lenten season, will you join me in defying the demands of superficial digital connection in favor of paying a different kind of attention to the people and communities we love?
Go ahead. Unplug. What you miss won’t be that important. And what you gain could be pretty wonderful.
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