Community Forum: Is technology too much of a good thing?

This week’s writer is Kathleen Agena, president of the Lindus Institute, which promotes intercultural cooperation and understanding on a broad range of national and international issues. She lives in Brandon.
iPhones, texting, surfing the internet, video games, 24-hour television channels and talk radio. We are addicted. In the movie “On Golden Pond,” a young boy visits his grandfather who lives without cable television, and says “What? No MTV? I’ll go crazy!” and he nearly does until he learns that it is possible to live without the constant bombardment of electronic stimulation that has become the fabric of our daily lives.
Moreover, the plethora of magazines, newspapers and books now available to feed our appetite for sensory images is also overwhelming our ability to evaluate information and discriminate according to qualitative rather than quantitative standards. Scientists who have studied how all the information and data with which we are being deluged affects us have found that it tends to paralyze our ability to make decisions — a process they describe as “brain freeze.” It also interferes with the development and use of the higher cognitive powers of our minds, which facilitate our ability to consider abstract concepts that have no sensory content.
Does that make any difference? Only if you acknowledge that our capacity to make value judgments and ethical decisions is dependent upon our ability to have periods of silence in which we are not part of the madding crowd, easily caught up in the mob mentality of what is fashionable at the moment or the mindless polemics that are typical of most radio and television talk shows.
Democratic governments are in the minority among the world’s nations. If we were not citizens of a democracy, the assault against our ability to make critical decisions based upon reflective evaluation of a situation would not matter that much. We would be told what to think and do by those in authority. Consequently, it is not just the deterioration of the quality of our lives that is an issue. The diminishing amount of time that we give to reflection has a negative impact upon our ability to be responsible citizens, to be able to make well-informed intelligent decisions.
Technology has given us more leisure time than previous generations, but we have, in many instances, let it usurp our ability to use that time for activities that are essentially human. The parents and grandparents of those of us who are 50 or older know that they not only had more time to sit quietly, but also had more time for each other, time that they spent with family and friends. Now, the television set or computer frequently become a substitute for human companionship.
Is it any surprise, then, that the language we use to express the way we communicate with the technology that surrounds us is often uncharacteristically aggressive, e.g., “shoot me an e-mail,” “hit the machine at the check-out counter.” It is as if somewhere in our collective unconscious, we recognize the harmful effects all of this is having upon our collective psyches and want to strike back.
The best way to do that, however, is to turn off all the computers, television sets, radios. DVD’s, iPhones and iPads in our homes for a period of time each day and recover what we have lost. Silence and reflection and thoughtful conversation with each other and our children.
This piece originally appeared in the Albany Times Union.

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