Technology's Double Edged Sword

Technology is amazing. I’m awed by its power to change our world down to the very questions we ask about the problems we face. If we forget to mail something until the last minute, we simply overnight it. For $40 or $50 we can avert a crisis. But in 1890, depending on the distance, you might have had to plan weeks or months in advance, and there were no tracking numbers. Even 10 years ago one of our favorite phrases when we’re going driving to a new place – “I’ll call you when we get close,” – was impossible for anyone outside of the top 1%.

At the same time, technology is boring. Nearly every advance is predictable. Faster processing, more storage, smaller package. Can you guess how interested I am in the newest version of…well, whatever? And we eat it up. Why were people waiting in line for the 3G iPhone when they had a “regular” iPhone already? Why did I freak out and wait in line 10 hours for my XBox 360 when the only game I’d play for weeks was Halo 2? Why did I let someone convince me to wait overnight at Best Buy for a $400 laptop with no unique qualities? We spend way too much time waiting in line for things that are just the next step on an endless staircase of the same old stuff.

As a web designer I feel a lot of pressure to climb those stairs. Based on what I do people expect me to be waiting in line, to be up to speed, and to be juiced about every new thing. It’s a reasonable expectation, but that’s not me.

I like to focus on technology that works, and that makes a difference in my life. But it seems that most of the technologies we “geek out” on only take up a little more of our time. I thought about getting a Blackberry, but I didn’t think it was worth the cost. Do I really need email and internet everywhere I go?

Those are the questions I ask myself about a new technologies. Will two more megapixels make me a better photographer? Does Twitter add anything to my life? Will Top Gun look any better in 1080p at 120Hz? The answer to all of those questions is, “Not really.”

Technology has the power to improve life, and even fundamentally change it for the better. But it also has an overwhelming ability to distract. In my contribution here I hope to point out technologies that can improve our lives, as well as our witness, without adding needless activity to an already hectic existence.

About Charles Jones
  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I’m partway with you. There are certainly tech evolutions that are not exactly paradigm-changing. I don’t have any problem waiting for those when I don’t feel they are going to be super helpful to my life.

    I didn’t need to get an iPhone because my old Nokia brick still makes calls just fine. I didn’t need to get a 360 at release because I was doing just fine with my PC. I didn’t need to rush out and get a Cintiq because my Wacom was adequate for my needs.

    I guess the problem is that I’m not a tech geek. I appreciate tech evolution and make use of its better additions to our world. But I’m not early adopter for the sake of it.

    I did get an iPod because that allowed me to make use of my music collection in a much more conscious, natural, and convenient manner than a mere CD player did. I did get an iPod Shuffle because I could attach it to a waterproof headset and listen to music while swimming (a worthwhile investment for me). I got a DVD player in 1996 because I could see the vast difference between DVD and VHS and as a cinephile, that was important to me. Annnnnnd… I’ll be getting a Kindle 2 in two weeks because I believe that particular piece of tech will be a very valuable investment for my particular life.

    But to your main point: yeah, don’t be mastered by anything.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://pos51.org/ Charles Jones

    But Dane, you’re all the way with me!

    You didn’t replace things that were getting the job done with costly things that would only add new features that you didn’t need and probably won’t use (the average paid iPhone app lasts 30 days). And to boot you didn’t have to wait in line when you found something useful.

    Everything you note buying added something positive to your life. And that’s what technology is supposed to do.

    I used to be the early adopter, but I kept getting burned, and paying way too much for things I wouldn’t use. But I’m hoping to get the best of both worlds: be aware of the latest and greatest, then hold off buying it until someone wins (or loses, like my $30 HD-DVD player).

    Charles Joness last blog post..Prelude to Real Education Ch. 3

  • http://www.aaronhall.com/ Minnesota Attorney

    Good observation. I suppose this observation is true with many things: things often seem more exciting before you acquire them. A famous saying puts it another way: the anticipation is greater than the realization.

    Minnesota Attorneys last blog post..COBRA and Health Insurance: Changes with the Stimulus Bill

  • http://writingdownthejones.com Charles Jones

    I just reread this, and I need to make an amendment. I was wrong about Top Gun…it looks phenomenal.

    That is all.


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