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Have We Reached Our Technological Tipping Point?

Kelly Baron |
July 20, 2010 | 11:53 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Creative Commons
Creative Commons
Scary statistic of the day: Since reducing the Kindle’s price point from $259 to $189, the growth rate has tripled, and Amazon has officially begun to sell more e-books than hardcover books.

Another one: while the iPhone 4 sold 3 million phones in the first 23 days of its release, the Android is doing even better, selling 33,000 more phones than Apple each day.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially cracked out on technology. Big surprise, yes?

Come on, who could blame us? The allure of constantly having the ability to stay connected to our e-mail accounts, text conversations, saved Google searches and maps of the nearest delicious destinations is quite a heavy one. 

In an essay published in the New York Times on Friday, Gary Shteyngart gracefully took us through his journey of purchasing and becoming enamored with his “iTelephone.” But this journey ends somewhere quite lovely—in a cottage outside of his network, where he has the ability to sense his recent desensitization to the real world and remember the “analog” elements of his life that led him to becoming a writer. Upon opening a new (printed) novel he writes, “I begin to sense the world between the covers, much as I sense the world around me, a world corporeal and complete, a world that doesn’t need the press of my thumb, because here beneath the weeping willow tree my input is meaningless.”

What an eloquent way to remind humans that we are just that—humans. Not androids, not calculators, not even natural multitaskers, as Bob Herbert pointed out in his opinion piece that was also printed in the New York Times on Friday--(“Why is multitasking considered an admirable talent? We could just as easily think of it as a neurotic inability to concentrate for more than three seconds.”).

How much is just plain too much? Are we coming dangerously close to the tipping point of our technological prowess? How long can we expect to dominate technology without seriously acknowledging its legitimate hold on us? Bob Herbert made a similar point in his article: “The blessed wonders of technology are overwhelming us. We don’t control them; they control us.” 

How very true. When one has become accustomed to the GPS feature of their smartphone, what a ludicrous concept it becomes to look at a real map on real paper. “Why would I ever have one on me?” one might ask. The same can be said for voice-to-voice conversation. Now that we’ve all become so accustomed to the distant and comfortable dialogue of texting, will there be a time when paying for talk minutes is a thing of the past?

The thing is, as Herbert pointed out, these technological advances really are “blessed wonders.” They are mind-boggling in their convenience and constant progress. But now that these high, high, high-tech devices are becoming so commonplace among Americans, we should ask ourselves if we truly are cut out for this.

It seems to me that along with constant connection comes a higher probability of a person’s early burn-out. Our desensitized practice of looking mostly at backlit screens during our days feels ripe for a build-up of some kind of real-world anxiety disorder. It feels dangerous to ignore our naturally sensitive souls. How many times can we read a terrifying article on a natural disaster, say “how sad,” and continue to multitask our hearts out at 100-mph pace before we finally need a break?

I think Shteyngart’s essay couldn’t have been written at a better time. The uneasiness we feel when stripped of an item as seemingly necessary as an iPhone or a laptop may be something we need to force ourselves to experience, if only to come out with the ability to see the clouds above our heads again, warning us—the natural way—that we can expect a little rain that day. That’s a connection that your 3G will simply never pick up.


To reach staff reporter Kelly Baron, click here.



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