The New York Times has been running a series of articles about various new (and newish) technologies and their impacts on our lives. Until today, the main message has been negative.
As you might expect, some writers report that researchers have found potential damage done by this 24 hour connectedness, potential damage to our brains and our relationships. This story shows a family of many screens, a family who probably has much in common with many of us. This story tells us how too much technology might change our personalities; we're likely to become impatient, irritable people as we use more and more technology. This Commentary series talks about ways to cut the electronic cord, at least for short bits of time.
But today, we get a different story about how knowledge is increasing exponentially, and our new technological resources will be the only thing that can save us: "The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart."
I have a friend who says she can't read a book on a screen, but I suspect she could if she made herself. I used to say I couldn't write rough drafts on a word processor (back when computers still weren't dirt cheap, you could buy a word processor that could store about 25 pages on a disk). But I trained myself to do it, because I knew it would pay off in the end.
In the end, though, it's up to each of us. Technology can really improve our lives. I love being able to look up all sorts of stuff; what used to take a trip to the library now takes minutes. I don't love having to deal with junk e-mail, but I love staying in touch with friends. I need to get better at turning all the electronics off at certain points in the day, but so far, I've been fairly effective at establishing boundaries between work and home. I love that I can read newspapers online and not have to recycle the paper. I love that I can catch NPR stories at a later point. I like to watch TV via Hulu and have less commercials to suffer through. I wish I had more time to read books, and I suspect I would, if I read less stuff online.
The struggle for me, and I suspect for many others, is balance. That's the struggle of many aspects of my life. I keep thinking I'll arrive one day, and find myself with perfect balancing skills. It's now occurring to me that I might keep working on this issue of balance my entire life. There are worse issues with which to struggle, I suppose.
Or I could reshape my thinking. Needing to work on balance means that my life overflows with bounty, and I have to determine my focus.
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