Technology is omnipresent in contemporary American society. Electronics permeate every facet of our lives, from the iHome alarm waking us up to the smartphone calendar update reminding us of our next work meeting. While there are many obvious benefits to technology, the mobile and persistent nature of new tech tends to isolate users from their social surroundings instead of enhancing relationships.
I recently purchased a new smartphone because I accidentally drowned my previous phone in a hot tub. After a few weeks, I thought the battery life seemed exceptionally poor. I checked the rated life, and I was getting significantly less life despite having the screen dimmed. After examining all my settings, however, I realized that it was probably due to leaving on push notifications. These push notifications sent my email, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and Amazon accounts through to my pocket instantly. I decided to turn off the push for everything but eBay (I occasionally sell items there, so a quick response is legitimately necessary) and set my email to only check every 2 hours. I soon noticed a battery life increase, but even sooner realized the sheer amount of time I had been wasting on those “social” networking sites. Instead of checking Facebook every 15 or 20 minutes, I now only look at it once daily or so. I rarely check Twitter at all anymore. By shutting off the insistent push, I broke the instinctual habit of checking my phone during any down time and now tend to focus on actually talking to the people around me instead.
Last summer, I met someone who was even worse than I was about constantly using a phone. While hiking the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota with some friends, I met a hiker who not only brought his phone with him, but carried along a solar charger so that he could use it the entire time. He didn’t even realize we were passing him until we came into his line of vision because he was listening to music on his phone. I found the intrusion of technology into the beautiful wilderness disturbing, a self-contained comment on the American addiction to devices.
Do I consider myself a slave to technology? No, I do not; I know how to program, to hack a computer into doing what I desire. Today’s computers are still unimaginably stupid, and programming truly requires babying the compiler. But fifty years ago, programs were basically incomprehensible to the casual reader. In twenty or thirty years, I have no doubt that I will be amazed at the state of technology; programming languages will likely develop to the point where programs can nearly be written as a normal English set of instructions. Though I am not a slave to technology, I do recognize tech as a moving force within my own life. It often attempts to snare me into using it more than I really wish to. It requires an intelligent and strong-willed user to master the technology instead of allowing it to consume your time and energy.