The Only Constant is Change

technology-a-blessing-or-a-curseThe cell phone rings as I flip between pages of the internet, surfing for the best price for white lace poncho shawls and an Elvis Presley wig. As I answer my phone the instant message screen pops up. The phone call is from New York; music for my show will be late. The instant message is from the costumer: she found the perfect Gold Lame suit. I buy two shawls from a woman in Ohio. Another instant message pops up, this one from my niece in Australia. She is pregnant again; it’s another girl. We “chat” for a bit as I complete my purchases and sign on to Gonzaga’s website to start online classes in Spokane. The TV drones in the background as my husband catches up on the Daily Show on DVR. A scream comes from my son’s room, “Holy, friggin’ crap!” My son has been hit by an ambush in his favorite cyber world, Halo 3, executed by his best online pal, Walla Walla. Sometimes I just want to turn it all off!

Technology has had a huge effect of the American lifestyle. The arrival of the internet, cell phones, cable, and the like has presented a mixed bag of benefits and burdens. For every advantage we receive, something is lost. Alvin Toffler coined the term “Future Shock” forecasting the emotional effect caused by the accelerated lifestyle that would leave people disconnected, and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation” due to “information overload”. The book was written in 1970 so I guess you could call Toffler a visionary.

So, is technology a blessing or a curse? I don’t know what to say; I’m sitting on the fence on this one, and I’m no fence sitter. I take action and check a blog to find out what other people think. Blogwonks seems inviting. Felicia Benamon is worried about former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson getting an implanted microchip under his skin. Convenient in that we can be scanned and followed in every country; dangerous because we can be scanned and followed in every country. She urges us to “Think of consequences.” That sounds good and bad. Score: pro-tech 1, anti-tech 1.
Next I check out a USA today article which says that “Technology can be great for staying in touch…”, (great, one for technology) “…but it may also create a trap that can discourage [college kids] from becoming interested in the people in their new environment. Instead of making the effort to meet new people, some students may find it easier to watch their favorite television show or play games on the Internet. Eventually, these students may find themselves alone and isolated, and that could affect their performance in school as well as their overall emotional health”. Oooo, that has to be bad.

Score, pro-tech: 2; anti-tech: 2.

I move on to The Spiritual Scientist, A Cyber Magazine for Those Who Think. That’s me. I am welcomed by a prominent quote by Max Frisch, “Technology: the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” That can’t be good. But is this really an argument against technology? They’re writing this in a blog for goodness sakes!

Score: 3 for; 3 against.

I flip back to my opening news page. story leads with a story only 30 minutes old: “An Islamist website says it will broadcast a new video from Osama Bin Laden to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks.” Amazing! But wait, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Bin Laden could call for another Jihad. But he has a right to be heard; freedom of speech and all that rot. I’m going to guess the U.S. doesn’t like it. What about the Middle East? Should we allow this? Noam Chomsky says “If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” It seems the internet gives us a forum for authentic freedom of speech, but it opens us to all sorts of “dangerous” information and potential activity. Again, the blessing and the curse. Score?

Pro-tech 4, anti-tech 4.

The score seems terminally tied so I turns to Marshal McLuhan for guidance. “Every extension of mankind, especially technological extensions, have the effect of amputating or modifying some other extension,” he says. He suggested that while mankind is quick to embrace and praise the extensions, they are reluctant to consider the amputations. This is really the issue, isn’t it? Can we responsibly create technology, with respect to the repercussions of our creations? McLuhan suggests we can, and give us a simple four question guideline to use when facing a new technology.

“What does it (the medium or technology) extend?”
“What does it make obsolete?”
“What is retrieved?”
“What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?”

This is simple. Simple is a good idea for this complex question. I think of the KISS anagram: Keep it Simple Stupid! (She smiles warmly.)

So, is technology a blessing or a curse? I’ve come full circle, or better still, full spiral, on the issue. There is no easy, black and white answer to be marked neatly in a multiple question test. This is an essay question. And it’s answer is sure to be media rich.

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