I’ve noticed something curious happen whenever a conversation turns to technology and culture change. People start to sound like brainwashed robots.
From the way we talk, one would think that “the future” is inevitable, that technological innovation is unquestionable, and that we no longer have the power to make choices.
Behold the examples:
Parents shake their heads and shrug their shoulders at the proliferation of smartphones and social-media accounts among young teens and children. What’s one to do? they ask. We can’t fight the future.
The digital revolution has convinced large swaths of the American public that printing will soon disappear, publishers will stop making physical books and Bibles, and that only apps and tablets will survive.
Constant connectivity makes it possible for many Americans to envision a work environment where no one has offices anymore because everyone can teleconference.
Professors and academics feel helpless in light of the onslaught of video teaching and online chat rooms, and many wonder if flesh-and-blood, classroom-based education can survive in a digital world.
In all of these cases, people are ambivalent regarding the effect of these technological advances and cultural changes. We recognize both positive and negative aspects in these developments, as we should.
But what strikes me as silly is how many people act as if it’s pointless to weigh the good versus the bad. Pointless, because we are helpless. There’s nothing we can do to resist what’s coming. We act as if “the future” has bound and gagged us, and robbed us of our freedom.
“Well, we can’t turn back the clock,” someone says. But the truth is, we can, and we do. Every fall, we turn back the clock an hour. Every four years, we enjoy an extra day.
“But the genie is out of the bottle,” another says. But we can save a wish if we want to, and ask that genie to get back inside. Like a genie, technology is powerful. But we still choose to rub the lamp.
So, enough with the silly idea that every technological advance is set in stone and that cultural changes are irresistible, especially if certain habits prove detrimental to the life we want for ourselves! We can make choices in line with the vision of what we want our world to be like, or at least, we can make choices in line with the vision of what we want to be like in our world.
If we don’t want our homes held hostage by glowing rectangles, we can limit our time on devices, or we can do away with smartphones altogether. What king or queen has invaded your house and demanded you hand your fifth grader a smartphone? Mom and Dad, you are the authority in your castle. You are responsible for the culture you create. If a phone helps accomplish the vision of what you want your home to be, then have at it! If it doesn’t, toss it out. But don’t abdicate your kingdom and fall helplessly before the throne of Apple or Samsung.
Readers, if you love to read on your phone or on Kindle, then thank God for the accessibility of today’s e-readers. But if you prefer the smell and feel of a printed book, then please, keep your library. Even more, why not add to it? Be part of the movement that continues to surprise the publishing world—the leveling off of ebook sales and the resurgence of print (hardcover even!). A Kindle can be a terrific aid to reading; don’t let it turn into a tyrant come to burn your books.
Workers, feel free to experiment with different environments and new ideas. But treat them like experiments. Don’t assume they can’t be reconsidered or revisited or revised.
Educators, who says the world of video has to dominate the next generation? What if, in a world in which so many people access content online, the relationship with a professor or teacher and back-and-forth debate in a physical classroom becomes more valuable and not less? What if we decide that our vision for education goes far beyond the transfer of information to the formation of one’s mind and heart?
Let’s stop speaking as if we were slaves to the latest developments in technology. We can always say, “No thanks, Google Glass. We don’t want to go there.”
Never assume the newest invention is “inevitable.” Retain your humanity. Resist the robotic. You are free.