Taking a break from technology

By Katie Dunne

My grandpa got a new clock last Christmas. It was one of those giant digital ones with an excessive amount of features and an unbearably long owner’s manual. For three months, the clock sat on a shelf largely unnoticed, and when daylight savings snuck up on us, it automatically “sprung forward.” My grandpa was completely amazed – he was convinced that one of us had changed it. We explained that it was linked to a satellite and changed automatically, that there was no conspiracy to make him question his sanity.

My grandpa’s technological naivete made me think about how rapidly technology has become ingrained in our society, and how absurd it is that we expect a man who is almost a century old to grasp these new concepts. A mere fifteen years ago, only the most savvy and stylish owned cell phones (e.g. Zack Morris), and they were the size of small bricks. Laptops were virtually unheard of. Instant messaging and blogging were yet to explode onto the social scene – Microsoft Word 2004’s spell check doesn’t even recognize the word “blog.”

Today, technology is everywhere. We carry the Internet in our pockets, classes depend on Web sites, and entire books can be purchased and read online. The Internet follows us to school, to work, and even on vacation.

Last Spring Break, while many of you were wearing bathing suits on some island in the Bahamas, I was on a sixteen-hour family road trip to Georgia. My sister was sitting next to me with a laptop DVD player, watching episodes of “Gilmore Girls.” My brother was asleep in the back listening to some garbage on his iPod. I was typing away on my MacBook, mentally damning the state of Kentucky for not providing me with wireless Internet (and for allowing people into gas stations with bare feet, but that’s a whole different story). Our generation can’t imagine life – or road trips – without our little gadgets.

But when I glanced up to the front of the car, my dad was happily sleeping, ears absent of any buds. My mom was driving, sipping coffee and content with her FM radio. The generational gap is really amazing – our parents grew up with none of these technological luxuries and don’t seem to need them.

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    The more I think about it, the more I wonder how luxurious they really are. It seems like the more advanced our technology becomes, the more likely we are to withdraw from the real world. The intimacy of conversation and the integrity of relationships are compromised by quick and cold forms of communication. We become slaves to Google and Wikipedia at the expense of our work ethic and attention span. Online classes replace face-to-face learning in the name of cost efficiency.

    Where do we draw the line? How do we reconcile our improved quality of life with the potential hazards of a technologically advanced world?

    These are impossible questions to answer, but important ones to ask. It will be up to our generation to keep technology in check, to assure that our children are exposed to pastimes beyond video games and entertainment beyond television. We are charged with developing cures to diseases, studying the implications of genomic research, and defending our country abroad while dealing with the ethical consequences of medical, scientific, and technological discoveries. It is imperative that we remain conscious of technology’s ever-growing role in our lives and maintain the ability to control it.

    I like my computer. I like my iPod. I like online banking and blogging and wireless Internet. I like being able to have a text conversation with my best friend while we sit in classrooms at different universities. And, yes, I even like stalking on Facebook every once in awhile. I like things that make my life easier.

    But, at the risk of sounding like a hippie or my mom (who are probably one in the same), maybe we should turn our machines off every once in awhile, if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves, and our grandparents, that we can.

    Katie is a senior in Spanish and political science and she’s taking a break from her iPod.