Technology Is Beating Us Black(berry) and Blue(tooth)!!!

Even though my paternal grandfather was Italian he never cooked. Hell, he could barely boil a pot of water! Working the oven was not within his grasp. The extent of his TV remote skill was turning the TV on and off, and adjusting the volume. Even dialing a phone number was a stretch for him. It’s not that he was an unintelligent man. It’s just that he had no real use for technology. It’s funny even referring to a TV remote, an oven, and a land-line telephone as “technology”, but for my grandfather – who was born before TV’s and refrigerators – these were hi-tech conveniences!

As a rather cocky kid I remember considering him to be somewhat of a “Luddite”, and I wondered how on earth he managed to navigate through this life without a solid grasp of current technology. Well, believe it or not, he did indeed manage to make it through life…to the ripe old age of 92! His wife (my Nonna) made it to 91! They actually both remained in their own house until the last year or so! In fact my grandfather was still tending to his massive garden (“giardino”) until he literally fell down in it and couldn’t get up. He was 90 years old at the time.

What am I getting at? In the past quarter century or so, we’ve seen life go from the simplicity of playing outside after school, hand-writing and actually mailing letters to friends and family, regular family dinners, and using a payphone when away from home or the office, to Avatar® and Wii®, email and instant messaging, ordering out and microwave meals on-the-go, and iPhones® and Blackberries®!

Indeed there have been some miraculous advances in medical procedures. Agricultural technology has allowed an average farm to go from feeding 90 people to feeding some 900! Vast quantities of information are readily available at the push of a button. Communication throughout much of the global community has advanced so far that physical borders are almost irrelevant. And for musicians, recording artists have witnessed the virtual end of analog (tape) recording and its replacement by ever-changing digital technology. High quality audio recordings are now possible in one’s own basement for a minute fraction of the cost of professional recordings, say, 20 years ago. So what? It’s all terrific, right? Or is it?

What has been the net result of all these “improvements” to our lives? Take a look around and what do you see? At the risk of seeming like my “Luddite” grandfather, I’ll tell you what I see beyond the thin veil of technological advancement…

I see kids who are so obsessed with the Internet, television, and video games (both at-home and hand-held versions) that real imagination and communication skills are suffering. Basic spelling and grammar are optional at best these days. And do kids even play hide-and-seek or make-believe anymore? I mean kids can’t even go to the store now without the DVD player being on in the van. Whatever happened to just “talking” to each other? Or reading a book? Or playing games like “Punch Buggy”, or “I Spy”. Just consider the onslaught of so-called childhood ADD, ADHD. This simply was not the case a couple of decades ago. I’m not talking about autism…that is a whole other entity. But really, where has this come from? We didn’t even have such a thing 20 years ago. Now it’s a relatively common “diagnosis” for kids with attention issues. Is jacking kids up on Ritalin® really a medical “advancement”?

And if it isn’t the overload of audio/visual stimuli, consider the food chain! Sure we can feed more people per farm now, but what are we eating? Processed food? Genetically engineered food? Whatever is quick and easy, right? Is it mere coincidence that we have alarming childhood obesity and diabetes rates? Is it any wonder that between the lack of basic physical activity and proper nutrition, for the first time in history, today’s youth are expected to live shorter lives than their parents?

Speaking of parents, how has technology “helped” them? Seems to me that these days parents so busy and stressed out that we now have as many divorces as marriages in North America. And who suffers most as a result? The children. Where is the stability in being shipped off to a different home every other week, as is often the arrangement in today’s divorce situations?

Now I really don’t mean to come down on parents in divorces, because to be honest, given what people are up against these days, it’s a wonder that anyone stays together anymore! Why is that? There are many reasons. But if I had to boil it down to one concept, I would argue that in the ever-accelerating, desperate and ultimately unfulfilling race to be the “best we can be”…in EVERYTHING…we have lost the essence of it all – our sense of self. We don’t know or feel who we are, how we fit in to the greater scheme of things, and what matters to us anymore. Instead we are TOLD how to feel, what to think, what to fear, what to buy, how to look, etc.

With all the so-called “advancements” in media, we have managed to convince ourselves that we NEED everything that is thrown at us, be it the latest gadget, appliance, clothing, or pill (the insane prevalence of prescription drugs in today’s society is subject for a whole other blog)! And what drives this perceived “need”? FEAR. As a technologically “advanced” society, we have mastered the art of using fear to motivate. For example, we scare the crap out of parents, by sensationalizing even the remotest mishap to befall a child, such as the MASSIVE coverage on CNN of the “dry-drowning” victim last week. One unfortunate child dies of some random illness or accident, and suddenly there are “experts” all over the media, telling us how to “keep our kids safe” from the “hidden danger” that lurks in the shadows. Seriously, between the sensational stories of one-in-a-million type deaths or injuries, to the latest “health threat”, to the fear-mongering, overblown news coverage of violence, parents are terrified to let their kids out of their sight even for a second without sunscreen, a cell phone, a helmet, and a GPS tracking device!!! Good thing we’ve had such advancements in SPF, cellular, sport protection and satellite technology! PHEW!!!

Things, things, things…and MORE things. Bigger is better. More is better. Faster is better. Easier is better. Enough already! We are so afraid of not being like everyone else, that we constantly feel the “need” distract ourselves with every new technology that is thrown our way. We are indeed ADDICTED to technology. It is a drug at its core. For all the good a drug can provide someone, the untempered, excessive, unnecessary use (abuse) of it will eventually have a seriously negative impact on our bodies and our beings. So it is with technology. I would argue that of all the things one can become addicted to, none is as insidious, as deceptive and ultimately as damaging as “Almighty Technology” simply for technology’s sake.

God forbid we ever spend some quiet time alone with our thoughts. Think of what could happen then…We might not maintain the high score on that Grand Theft Auto®…We might miss that “essential” bit of news regarding the child who died in a freak farming accident 5,000 miles away…We might miss Paris Hilton’s latest escapade…We might not catch the latest DVD the moment it hits the shelves…We might not catch the special report on the Killer Bees…We might miss that one-day-only sale on that piece of shit we don’t really need but everyone else has…Please, say it ain’t so!!!

…OR WORSE YET – We might actually have a moment of clarity. A moment where we find the solution to a problem that has been plaguing us. A moment where we realize just how pointless that argument we are having with our lover really is. A moment where we come up with a great idea for a new business venture…one that we are passionate about. A moment where we create a song or poem. A moment where we connect with ourselves- the real us, not the us we are told to be. A moment where we discover that technology for technology’s sake is an empty promise, a deceitful mistress, a distracting, debilitating, destructive drug.

Having said all of the above, please don’t misunderstand me – I am in fact all for technology and technological advancements. However, there is a world of difference between being “all for” technology and being “for all” technology! This market-driven, false sense of “needing” all the latest technology so as not to “fall behind” is a load of rubbish! Technology should serve the purpose of benefiting those who truly NEED it. I am a musician. I can tell you that all the advances in audio technology are great, but in many ways, I feel overwhelmed by too many options. It often takes more time to get the final product instead of less, because I spend so much time choosing between one plug-in and another, or dealing with the inevitable “system crash”. Besides no amount of Pro-Tools® or Auto-Tune® will make a bad song any better. Quantity does not necessarily (if ever) beget quality. I still don’t even have an iPod® …What?!?!?!? Why?!?!?! Because I don’t truly need it (yet at least). I don’t have cable TV either…DOUBLE-WHAT?!?!?…How can I live without it? Because I don’t need it. Basic air feed channels provide me with far more programming than I could ever care to watch. I mean, really – how much time do I want to waste watching TV? I would much rather write a song, hang with my friends or family, read a book, take a walk, call a friend long-distance…or simply BE.

It is somewhat ironic that I have just spent the better part of two hours at my computer typing this blog entry. Everything in good measure though – time to get outside and enjoy nature for a bit. My grandfather often used to sit on a crooked lawn chair and just look out over his garden. No Blackberry®, cell phone, or Wii®…just him and his garden. And again, he lived to 92. I have that chair now. And at the risk of carrying on the “Luddite” tradition, I think I’ll go sit on it for a while…and hopefully get to understand myself and the world around me a little better…and maybe even add a few years – hopefully peaceful, fulfilling ones – to my life.

10 / June / 2008  English   

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