A technological utopia? – The Socjournal

A paper submitted to Sociology 460: Sociology of Information Technology

It’s Monday morning, 5:30AM and I am awake. I go for a run, have breakfast, feed the dogs, have a shower, get ready for the day and then sit down on the couch with a cup of coffee, Canada AM and my laptop. I have one hour between 8AM and 9AM to catch up on the news and personal things before work. Within that hour, I check both my email accounts responding where necessary but for the most part cleaning out junk mail and funny emails from friends. I check out Facebook, send a birthday greeting, send a couple pokes, invent a witty and interesting status, check my inbox and any comments and then sign out quickly in case someone wants to chat. Now I have a few minutes for twitter, where I find out someone I don’t really know is doing something quite boring, so I repost my status from Facebook and sign out. In the meantime, my computer has signed me into MSN where I get to discuss the divorce of someone I knew in high school, while I respond to four other people who have a sudden need to chat with me. All the while, my blackberry is beeping. My hour now is almost up. I have heard nothing about the day’s events, my coffee is cold, I have been up for three and a half hours and I feel like I have worked a full day.

I remember longingly the days when I could sit for an hour, drink a hot coffee and watch the news. There were no interruptions, nothing in need of my immediate attention. An hour, left to my own devices. Only three short years ago when I had no laptop, my email contacts totaled ten people and I had no idea how to text. Unfortunately, that is not today and my hour is over so, I pack up my laptop and blackberry and it is off to work. In my office, I turn on the office computer and set up my laptop, which again signs me into MSN. I really need to figure out how to stop that I think as I hear the beep signaling someone wants to chat. I ignore them while I check more emails. I muddle through the morning, checking my inbox during periodic lulls, while MSN beeps in one ear and my blackberry in the other. Lunch arrives and I contemplate skipping it in order to catch up, but I am tired, hungry and ready to snap. I head out for lunch blackberry in hand, because I cannot imagine how I will survive without a phone for one hour.

Upon returning to my desk, it dawns on me that I have not actually spoken to anyone today and even the telemarketing call was an electronic recording. When did it become the norm to have instant electronic contact with everyone and no actual face-to-face interaction? The afternoon passes in much the same fashion, only now the emails are coming faster than I can check them. Around 3:30PM, I give up and finally turn off both computers. The dogs need a walk, as do I, so I pocket my blackberry and head outside. I have to resist the urge to check the texts coming in, but I know that a second of inattention will lead to very naughty behaviour on the part of the dogs. Therefore, I pretend I do not hear it and try to take a few deep breaths and unwind. After our walk, I quickly make dinner, than head to the gym for an hour truly free of technology and contact with real people. Coming home, I wish I could just sit in a quiet house and read, but I walk in and the television is on. For the next three hours, I sit in front of the television, with my laptop. Another day has passed and I have had maybe two hours, without some form of technology beckoning me. Tomorrow morning I get to get up and do the whole thing over again and I wonder how long I can do this. When will it be too much?

This morning I longed for three years ago and now I wish I could go back to high school where my only contact with a computer was the Commodore 64 in the school’s new computer lab. Of course, its functions were limited; this was before the internet, before email, before inkjet printers. We were fascinated though with the poor quality games, the ability to make banners and flyers and the potential computers promised us. What a wonderful world it would be, if at the push of a button we could access any information we required and have instantaneous contact with the people in our lives. Oh yes, the promise that computers offered was endless. A paperless world; where everything was stored in the memory of a machine, available at the press of a button. That was what we envisioned computers could do for us. We were naively certain, at the end of the 1980’s, that technology would greatly enhance our lives, connecting us with others across the world, decreasing our workload and giving us more time for leisure. Some of that promise has been fulfilled and today we are able to keep in touch with family and friends, no matter where they are. We can share pictures and emails instantaneously. The world has become a much smaller place in the past 20 years. It has also become a much busier place.

That is perhaps the greatest change that technology has brought to mine and I am sure other’s lives. In my childhood, there were no computers, no cell phones and no answering machines. My parent’s television had three channels and it did not matter because we spent our spare time outside. We played with our friends, read books and talked to people. If a family member lived far away, you phoned them, wrote them a letter or made the drive to see them. For me, computers, internet and technology have increased the workload I am responsible for in a day. Not only do I need to keep up with increasing emails but also I am also permanently tied to my phone even when I am out for a walk with the dogs. The only hour I have that’s phone free is when I am at the gym. That is my greatest struggle with technology, the lack of free, personal time. I have tried to take breaks where I turn off the technology but it tends to create more problems than it solves. Eventually I must go back and the amount of information waiting for me is overwhelming. Even turning off the internet and cell phone does not disconnect me from technology. There is television with hundreds of channels, my car with a GPS and IPod jack and the dozens of gadgets that clutter up the house. There really is no escaping technology.

Along with the added workload of maintaining email and social networking, there is an increase in the electronic gadgets that clutter up our lives. When I left home for college in 1991, I had the necessities a bed, a couch, a table, a television, a VCR, a box of books and clothes. When my brother left for college in 2009 he had the same minus the VCR, but in addition, he had a computer, a mini fridge, a microwave, a cell phone, an Ipod and numerous other little electronics. Technology has increased the amount of things we surround ourselves with and every year there seems to be more. An example of this is my active resistance to owning a Kindle, even though I must admit that for holidays it would be more convenient than packing four or five books. I grew up with books, and there is something so peaceful about holding an actual book in your hands and getting lost in a story. It seems almost sinful to deny the next generation the pleasure of opening a book in lieu of an electronic replacement. There is also the warm, homey feeling that a bookshelf full of books gives a room. It would be sad to lose that in the push for more technology. I also miss the letters that connected my friends and I between summer camps. The instant gratification of email is missing that anticipation of waiting for a letter, opening that envelop and reading a letter someone took the time to write.

As nostalgic, as I can get about how things were before technology took over my life I have to admit there are positive things about it. First, my Garmin GPS watch is an invaluable tool while I am training to run a marathon. I honestly do not know how I trained before I got that piece of technology. Second, an eight-hour drive to my parents is much easier with an IPod full of music or an audio book to pass the time and a cell phone handy if I run into trouble. Third, when my little sister hit the ditch in the middle of the winter in nowhere Saskatchewan, having a cell phone saved her from sitting on the side of the road in the cold. Incidentally, it also saved her the cost of a tow truck because she called me to contact the tow truck and somehow I ended up footing the bill. Fourth, is being able to have instant contact with my brother while he is stationed in Afghanistan. Without email, Skype and MSN there would be very little contact. As hard as it is when he is on tour, at least we are able to talk to him, to see for ourselves that he is all right. This is very different from his tour in Bosnia or even his first tour in Afghanistan. Lastly, there is the opportunity that sites like Facebook or MSN provide to connect with people from my past, those old friends from high school, summer camp, my first time through college or past employment, that I have lost touch with over time.

Despite my resistance to technology, it appears that technology has found insidious ways to invade my life. Although I know that I have the option to cut the majority of it out, I feel I would be missing a lot if I did that. To find that balance I do take breaks from technology. I find time to sit down with a book and read, despite the cell phone I get out with my dogs, away from the computer and being physically active, especially running allows me to balance my life. As with anything there are positives and negatives, computers and technology are no exceptions. Life is about balance and the greatest downfall with increasing technology is the inability of people to find that balance. We see this in increasing stress related illness and childhood obesity. Technology is not going to slow down, so it is up to the users of technology to implement controls in their own life. Increased technology has not made life easier and has not generated the free time it promised, but it does offer opportunities that we could not have seen back in the 1980’s, such as a 24/7 connection to the world. Whether or not our quality of life has improved is negotiable. It seems that in technologically advanced societies that increased connectivity correlates to a decline in the health and wellness of the general population. As for me, it is back to my email. Perhaps today I will finally get it cleared out.

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