Monday, July 7, 2014

that technology is the servant and we're making it the master

During a visit to the city not long ago, we bought a couple of drinks from a bubble tea bar. My daughter said it was like chewing tasteless, gelatinous balls floating in flavoured milk. She whipped out her phone in the middle of the Rundle Mall to update Facebook with a status about it. Her cousin, who lives in Cairns, instantly left a comment saying, 'Take that back' (he loves bubble tea). They kept the discussion flowing for a little while, and it occurred to me to be thankful for modern technology. Not even a couple of centuries ago, the first people who settled in Adelaide had to wait months for word from their family members. They would probably think that a girl communicating instantly from a shopping centre with her cousin in far north Queensland, is nothing short of a miracle. Even those of us old enough to remember the 1970s would have to admit that we've come a long way.

Yet not everybody loves technology. It scatters our concentration as we're trying to focus on other tasks and our mobile communication devices start beeping, buzzing or playing bars of music. We get rushed and our communication feels shallow, as our contacts are spread so far. Bad news bombards our senses, whether we ask for it or not, giving the impression that the world may be a scarier place than it really is. These are insidious things which may slowly eat away our quality of life, so that it's hard for some to figure whether the benefits of modern technology really do outweigh the costs.

I read a simple sentence by an author who said, 'We've got to remember, we weren't created for technology. Technology was created for us.' Now, that reminded me of words Jesus spoke to his listeners, about something else. He said, 'The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.'

In his time, the Pharisees were those respected religious leaders who set and maintained all the rules in the synagogue. They added many crazy extra codicils to Scripture's simple command to keep the Sabbath holy and refrain from usual work. They totally changed the character of a day God had intended for recharge and relaxation. In fact, they made it just the opposite, making that day of the week more trouble, in many ways, than it would have been had God never set it aside in the first place.

How does this relate to technology in the twenty-first century? Are we making technology our master instead of our servant? Well, we tend to set fixed rules too. Bloggers have assigned days on which they post, and I've come across more than one person who has woken up with a blank mind and fretted herself into a panic. 'I have nothing to say, but I have to say something because it's The Day!' If anyone tells them to cut themselves some slack, they get all noble and say that their fans and blog followers are depending on them. Some even box themselves in by setting different days of the week for different themes. And we tell ourselves (or are told by experts) that we MUST return emails within a couple of days, or even hours.

 I always thought I was far more flexible, but a couple of months ago, I was considering a short holiday with my family and found myself checking that it wouldn't include a day I have a blog post up somewhere, to which I should be sitting home to check comments, so I could comment on the comments and thank people. I decided to leave that sentence convoluted to show what knots we can tie ourselves into. Many of us are always accessible because our technology is so portable. I know several who cannot turn their phones off in case they miss some big opportunity. Each day, dozens of emails appear in our in-boxes, which we swiftly peruse, sorting spam from genuine correspondence. This all takes time and attention. No wonder we are harried and anxious with scattered attention spans. Just like with the Sabbath, something designed to benefit our lives has the potential to create stress and shackles, if we let it.

Our contacts cover far more than the traditional tribal, or pre-Industrial revolution village groups, which were typical ongoing social networks for centuries. Suddenly, many of us find we may have between 300 and 1000 friends on Facebook, and even more followers on Twitter. I consider that maybe humans weren't really designed for a social reach that extensive. We want to follow several blogs, stay in close contact with many people, offer the right support, and write lovely, encouraging comments. Our spirits are willing, and when we don't manage because we're spread too thin, we may feel like pathetic, shallow friends. We're so used to taking modern technology for granted, that we don't stop to reflect that it's pretty stressful to do with a couple of hundred people what our ancestors knew they could manage with about twenty other people at the most.

World Wide Web is an apt title. As our personal influence can spread to friends across the globe within a few seconds, we may feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. This surely wasn't the result intended for something which is supposed to make our lives easier.

I think the best thing we can do is to stay aware of the huge artificial, personal 'villages' we are trying to create, and cut ourselves a bit of slack for being only human, with a limited attention span and only twenty-four hours in any given day. I still believe that modern technology is an enormous boon for which I am tremendously grateful, but we could take time to remind ourselves that it is a servant and not a master. Bombardments with messages, requests and on-line demands before our feet even hit the floor in the morning isn't the only way to live.


  1. Some great thoughts there Paula. Technology (like fire) makes a good servant but a poor master.

    1. Hi Jenny,
      It is a bit like fire, when you think about it. I like that analogy. A very good and helpful thing, but we may get burned if we are not careful. Thanks :)

  2. All of the above is very true Paula. I think I need to gain a little more perspective about this. For quite some time now I have felt the need to leave my phone on 24/7 in case the nursing homes need to contact me regarding my elderly mother or my aunt. Talk about an exaggerated sense of responsibility (I have power of attorney, medical poa and guardianship). I don't think the nursing homes have ever contacted me until a reasonable hour of the morning if anything has happened overnight so it doesn't achieve anything to leave the mobile on except loss of sleep when somebody calls my number by mistake. Making mental note - turn off mobile before turning off light unless using for alarm clock.

    1. Hi Lesley,
      I hear you loud and clear. You are in a responsible situation, and I can understand your leaving it on 24/7. But as you suggest here, if you switch it on again first thing in the morning, they would surely be quick to contact you if necessary.

  3. I still carry a cell phone that is just for phone calls. It can get texts, but it's too hard to send messages back, so I don't use it for that. It drives some of my friends crazy, but when I'm out and about I use my phone for emergencies only. That's how I unplug. :o)

    And of course, I save my most important blog reading for when I really have time to focus and comment on it. ;o)

    Peace and Laughter!

  4. Hi Cristina,
    You are one of the people I think of when I'm thankful for technology. It's great to have the image of a friend to connect with when we think of New York.
    I agree that texting takes a long time, when you can just wait to get home and type an email or FB message. I don't use mine for that either, but it's nice to know the kids have theirs if I need to call them.

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