Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Praise of Technology

I prefer real books to digital books, but I've found kindle to be helpful. I'd rather meet a friend for coffee than message over Facebook. However there are friends I wouldn't have been able to reconnect with if not for Facebook. I think it's better for my kids to climb trees and make a mess in the mud than to play a video game, yet there is no denying that they have a lot of fun on the Xbox. I can live without my iPhone, but oh my goodness, it's convenient!

In high school, I was a dreamy-eyed, romantic Luddite. It didn't bother me when people said that we may run out of fossil fuels and have to live like they did in the 1800s. I watched old movies and listened to old music. I believed the world would be a better place if we could just turn back the clock. Thankfully I didn't stay in this phase. But having worn those rose-colored glasses, longing for a time in history that didn't really exist, I am a little wary of all the caveats against technology that are roaming around the internet.

It won't take you long to do a search to find an article about Steve Jobs not letting his kids use iPads or how real books are better for your mind than digital books. I agree with being chary of using technology as a babysitter, but I think we need to not completely throw it out.

It's more difficult to teach children to have limits, but I think in the long run it is a more useful lesson than telling them that technology is bad for them. After all, it doesn't take much for a child to see that technology isn't bad and that computers help out Mom and Dad all the time. The reality is that computers and robots have done a lot to make our world run more smoothly and for the better.

I have no doubt that we should be careful about mindlessly using technology, but I think we have to be careful about mindlessly doing anything. The fact is us humans like to be entertained and to waste time whether it's bumming around on Facebook or staring at clouds up in the sky. If you lie around staring at the clouds too long, you could get a crick in your neck and get so lost in your own thoughts that your mind goes numb. If you bum around on Facebook too long, your eyes could get strained and you could get so lost in other people's thoughts that your mind goes numb. Too much of anything can be bad for you.

My kids experience most of technology in the form of games. Headventureland.com has been a fantastic resource for my kids' Latin practice. Their online games and videos make Latin more accessible and fun. My kids have limits on their Xbox time, but I think it's good for them to enjoy some pop culture rather than to be completely cut off from it. I'm glad my kids are experiencing the current technologies, even if it's not all purely educational, because it takes the mystique out of technology. I want them to be comfortable in the world of computers whether or not they grow up to be engineers.

When you move beyond all the fun and entertainment of technology, you find that it makes the world a better place. Can you imagine a hospital without computers? Would you trust your bank if it eschewed servers? NASA has brought us more than pretty pictures from outer space. Do you really want a world where NASA doesn't exist? What about research for cures for diseases? All the safety features encoded into your car? Severe weather warning software that gives families enough time to take shelter? Can you really fathom what our lives would be like without all the helpful and life saving gadgets, gizmos, and programs given to us by the engineers and scientists of the world?

As a society, I think we need more thoughtfulness in our approach to technology, but I don't think we should completely malign it. We should continue to improve it and make it safer. We should find our boundaries and balance our convenient digital world with the beauty of our physical world. I don't think we should ask, "Which world is better for us?" Instead, we should ask, "How can we have both worlds in harmony and health?"

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