Back From Vacation And Back To Using Technology
I'm only just back after two and half weeks on vacation. I didn't go anywhere special, just toured around my country (Ireland) meeting up with some old friends.
But when I go on holidays, I completely disconnect from the online world. I carry a smartphone for emergencies only. I don't use it to check up on social media sites, or even the news. It allows me to decompress, step back from all the digital noise and think about things without all the distractions that being online brings.
It saddens me to see so many people walking the streets, and even the great outdoors, with their heads buried in their phones. So little attention is paid to the real world around them. Their only reality is the virtual reality provided by their mobile device.
I've often been struck by the dichotomy that the online world brings. On the one hand, it enables us to communucate with anyone, anywhere. Sometimes immediately. Sometimes with a time lag.
Yet, face-to-face communication is on the wane. How many of you can say you know your neighbours well and regularly chat with them. I can't and don't. All this communication technology serves to isolate us from each other more and more.
I've also wondered if the rise in behavioural problems - things like road rage - is due to people being anonymous online for the most part. They vent without filters online, sometimes spewing racist, sexual, idiological and hateful comments in the most venal way.
And, because there's no threat of a physical retaliation, they feel empowered and emboldened to speak and react without the usual social filters that come into play in face-to-face interactions.
Then, when they're actually faced with an issue in the real world, like being cut off by another motorist, they go ballistic and we hear about another road rage incident.
Most of social media seems to be about letting the world know that you exist, that you're important, you're special and the world should take notice of you. And if it doesn't, you're entitled to have a 5-year-old's temper tantrum about it.
There seems to be too much of the "I want to be famous...for the sake of being famous" rather than "I've become famous because something I did mattered or changed the world for the better".
In the grand scheme of things, you're not important. I'm not important. No one is. The world didn't stop turning just because any one person died. Not even the Son of God, if you believe in such things.
We're important to those who love us. We might be important to those who are affected by our actions, be that good or bad (hopefully the former).
I try to live my life on a "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" paradigm rather than the "do unto others before they do unto you" dog-eat-dog world view. I hope at the very least, to leave the world in no worse shape than I found it.
All my life I've loved technology. I became a computer programmer in the 1980s and built a successful business with my skills. I followed all the improvements in computer technology (and related technologies) and was an early adopter of a lot that tech.
These days, I'm finding I'm becoming more of a Luddite. Rather than seeing the benefits of technology, I'm becoming more aware of its misuses.
What if you were told you would have to have a chip implanted somewhere in your body so that you could be tracked (but it's in your best interests because if you ever get lost or abducted, the authorities will know where to find you). Or that you'd only need to swipe your hand over a till for the bill to be paid (so you don't have to mess about with that dirty cash or fidget about to find your credit/debit card). Or that everything you do online is tracked so that a profile is built up of you that can be sold on to third parties without your permission.
You're probably ok with the last one, espcially if you use Google Chrome as your browser.
You're maybe ok with the second one but probably wouldn't be too happy about the first one.
The thing is, you're already chipped. It's not in your body. It's in your smartphone. It is your smartphone. We've sleepwalked into a position of giving away tons of information about ourselves for some shiny goodies.
I don't know if people are simply unaware or if they don't care about this usurpation of privacy. It seems they're happy to hand over the keys for their life so they can bury their heads in a handheld device for a large portion of their day.
When you work a 9 to 5 job, you get money in exchange for 8 hours of your personal time - time you can never get back. But how many of us are on our laptops or phones, doing work during the commute to and from the office? Unpaid work at that.
And then, in the evenings, how many of us spend time checking up on business-related emails and such? Again, unpaid work.
A lot of this was brought home to me on my holidays, seeing how friends behaved with technology, how our conversations were interrupted by their phones pinging when a new email or social media update was announced - and my friends then checking them.
At one time, that kind of conversation interrupt would have been considered the height of rudeness. Not today. Today, face-to-face conversation is an interrupt to the 24/7 stream of noise from the online world.
I'm not a slave to the 9 to 5 and the extra unpaid time associated with it because I walked away from the rat-race in 2004. I work from home now. I work when I want. I take time off when I want. I'm answerable to no one but myself. I can have a pyjama day and not feel remotely guilty about it. I don't have to fake being sick because I can't face going into the office today. I can go on holdiays whenever I want for as long as I want.
I see my friends trapped in their jobs, trading time for money and most (not all) hate their jobs.
So here I am, back from vacation, setting foot in the online world again. It feels icky at the moment but that will pass as I return to normal daily operations.
I will, however, be turning off my phone when I don't really need it. Removing the battery even. I won't have it on when I'm talking with friends. I won't have it on when I'm traveling, even locally. I really don't need the ability to be contacted instantly. Another way to look at this is that I don't like being on call 24/7 - I want my own space and time. I still have a land-line and people can contact me there.
Unfortunately, though, I do need my smartphone to use Google Authenticator so that I can log into some online services.
There's always a way you'll be forced to use technology, whether you like it or not. And there's always someone - individual or organization - that will abuse that technology for their own ends.
Technology brings huge benefits but, as with everything, it is a double-edged sword. Just be aware of its downsides - not in a conspiracy theory way - but in how it can affect your own life and personal interactions in a way that's not good. Put your phone down and look at the real world for a change.
Finally, do you know how precarious our civilization is with its dependency on technology? Here are 10 reasons we may be entering a dark age of technology.