Friday, July 22, 2011

Muse of the Week: Connected

Interesting article on NPR about the increasingly integrated network into which devices like the iPhone are bringing us.

The author doesn't completely dismiss the idea that this 24-hour connectivity may have drawbacks, but he's rather condescending toward a graduate-student cabbie who observes that such devices have a downside, as well. The brave new world of always-on networking is something I've been pondering quite a lot lately. On the one hand, there are obvious benefits to the knowledge and capabilities such devices bring. (And I must admit I would love a phone with a data plan.)

I worry, however, that there are some significant limitations to the usefulness of such technology. Used well, it can do wonderful things. Used improperly, it does seem, as the cabbie says, to make us "stupider than ever before." We rely upon technology to tell us what our own good sense used to develop. GPS software, for example, is wonderful when we need to find somewhere new and complicated, but what favor are we doing ourselves when we fail to learn the dimensions of our landscape and rely upon electronic devices for basic tasks? We become seemingly incapable of living without stimulation. Need to wait a few minutes? Better turn on the "Angry Birds." We become so tightly woven into our online social networks, from Facebook to text-messaging to email, that we are unable to focus upon our in-person communication and experience the anxiety of worrying we have missed something the moment we put down our devices. Will the world end because we don't check Facebook for a few days? I highly doubt it.

So: while the best path will vary depending upon the individual, I suspect most of us would benefit from treading a line somewhere between the Amish and the author's Silicon Valley myopia. Technology offers exciting new horizons, but treated without care we can begin to lose the skills and interaction that make us fully human.

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