The Consistency of Change: Technology

Fear of Change (part 1): Technology

Humans have always worked towards advancing their technology resulting in constant changes to our way of life.  “Moore’s Law is a computing term which originated around 1970; the simplified version of this law states that processor speeds or overall processing power for computers will double every two years.” From the abacus to the calculator, the wheel to the automobile, the Atari to the Xbox our technology advances exponentially.  In other words, our technological advancements are accelerating faster and faster each year.  

As the human race advances so does our technophobia.  Luddites are an interesting historical example of rebellion against technology.  Modern Luddites cope with their inability to adapt by criticizing technology; they suggest that it makes our society less intelligent or less social.

 Luddites

When we hear the term technology mental images of cell phones and computers are conjured, but technology can cover a much broader spectrum.  Advancements in automobiles, medical treatments, and machines are made possible because of technology.

Advancements in machinery are what led to an uprising in 1811.  The Luddites were a collective of working class folks that were worried that machines might replace them or, at the very least, cause lower wages.  They had the right to be upset, especially after the Combination Acts when trade unions were banned.  In the early 1830’s a similar uprising took place in rural areas; they destroyed farming equipment.  This was called the Swing Riots

Using Luddite to describe those who are anti-technology began with an essay by Thomas Pynchon.  Like many words in our language, the meaning of Luddite has continued to evolve.  Today Luddite is used to describe a person who refuses technology.  The title is used humorously, contemptuously, and sometimes proudly. 

On the extreme, Ted Kaczynski’s acts of violence were motivated by a hatred of technology.  A quick internet search will uncover a number of groups that, less violently, oppose technology and have no qualms calling themselves Luddites.

I use the term as a descriptor of those who refuse the changes brought on by the digital age.

Intelligence

I have heard Luddites complain that technology is making us dumb. The Google Effect is the idea that having information readily available causes people to remember less.  Studies show that our reliance on technology impacts how the brain works; most notably in the memory department.  The primary culprit is the cellular phone. It has become very convenient to accesses phone numbers or directions with the cellular phone. Why bother remembering something if your phone can do it for you?

While it may be true that our society relies on digital access to find information, it is also true that our memories have never been that great.  Before the ability to digitally recall information we had print phone books and physical paper maps.  Generally speaking the human’s ability to recall information is flawed.  “The recall is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what we actually remember and more about what we'd like to remember.” (Jonah Lehrer).  (For more information on memory click here)

When I enlisted the Nation Guard had GPS capabilities with a device called PLGR (plugger).  The Guard still required us to learn how to read a map and compass, though.  At PLDC we were taught that you did not need to know all of the information, you just needed to know where to find it.  I and fellow NCO’s in waiting carried a stack of books (backpacks were not allowed) back and forth from class.  We took detailed notes and used sticky tabs to mark important pages.  Passing the timed open-book tests depended heavily on how well we ‘tabbed out’ our books and how quickly we could access that information. 

I think Luddites may confuse memory recall with intelligence.  Some studies actually point to an overall increase in IQ. The Flynn Effect is the acknowledgment that IQ tests are becoming harder, therefore, humans are becoming smarter since the average score is still 100.  This conclusion is based on people scoring higher on older tests.

I believe one should keep skeptical of all studies.  Many studies, particularly in the food industry, tend to be biased and have an agenda.  Take for example Kaspersky’s, an internet security company, research into the Google Effect; they concluded that our computers need more security.  Even with a skeptic’s eye, I do not believe that technology is making us dumb, it just changes where we gather our information.  Advancing from an abacus to a scientific calculator has not created a culture of ignorance. 

Social Interactions

Due to my career (and general anxiety being in crowds), I am a reclusive person.  If not for texting and social media I would have little to no contact with the outside world.  The modern Luddite believes technology has a negative impact on our social interactions. 

Once a new parent would corner a co-worker with a wallet full of pictures, today they use their phone or more likely post the pictures on social media.  In fact, we post our entire lives on social media; from what we ate for lunch to what movie we are currently watching.  For the Luddite this is absurd.  Would a person show a stranger a picture of their child or their lunch?  Actually, yes they would.

For years we have shared pictures and information with strangers.  We have conversations with waitresses, grocery store clerks, and the fellow sitting next to us at the local pub.  The medium that we share this information on has changed and for the Luddite that is hard to accept.

There has always been a cycle of one generation criticizing another.  The printing press was considered inferior to handwritten works by monk Johannes Trithemius.  In 1934 the car radio was deemed a distraction and some states wanted to ban it.  Even Alexander Graham Bell was met with friction.

The usefulness of the phone was largely debated.  It was first used only for businesses, then later deemed ok to be used to invite a friend over, but it was still seen by many as a technology that erodes social behavior.  The phone was thought to make us lazy, question a person’s trust, and ruin the domestic life.  Since the invention of the phone quite the opposite has occurred; surprisingly teens still prefer face-to-face interaction’s with each other. 

I am an introvert, for me, texting and social media is a blessing.  Technology has allowed me to stay in contact with individuals that I would unlikely call or see.  I have met a lot of people over the years and if I carved out time to call or see each of them I would not be able to maintain a job or spend time with my family.  Social media keeps me connected with relatives that I would normally have very little to say too.  I avoid awkward conversations full of long bouts of silence by leisurely typing a reply to a post.  I keep tabs on soldiers who worked for me; it is very exciting seeing their career growth.

I truly believe social media connects people in a significant way, but it is not without risk and drawbacks.  It can be used to spread misleading or fake information, reduce productivity, and it introduced cyber-bullying.  One should be careful and keep security in mind when using social media, the internet is forever.

Even with the dangers, it seems to me that technology has only improved or social interactions.  Even the shyest of people have an opportunity to discreetly reach out and converse.  The way we communicate is consistently changing; if a Luddite wants to continue to communicate they will need to change too.

Conclusion

There are those who react angrily to the ever-changing technologies.  They do not learn how to utilize technology then get mad when put in a situation when they need it.  These people who get mad at the complications of technology differ from those who fear change.  There is nothing wrong with being a Luddite and debating one’s point of view.  I believe healthy debates can unlock our understanding of each other very efficiently. 

Unfortunately, many Luddites I know choose to argue rather than debate.  They believe their view is absolute; this leads to a kinetic chain reaction of anger.  Our actions truly have a rippling effect; refusing to deal with change can lead to strained relationships in all aspects of one’s life.

Society may reach a point when Skynet takes over or perhaps we will march to the Morlok pits in an ignorant bliss, but until then one truth remains: technology will continue to change our lives.  We can choose to change with it or accept the consequences that come with not changing.