Friday, December 3, 2010

Some Reflections on Time and Technology

We live in a culture where we can have everything now.

We can talk to anyone, no matter where we are or when—even while we are operating a motor vehicle or anesthetizing a patient for a surgical procedure. Have we lost our senses of self-control and anticipation?

Partners go to the grocery store with a list, but still need to call home from the aisles to clarify or to question—sometimes more than once in the same trip. Have we lost the ability to exercise judgment?

We crave connection with people, and yet, it seems easier for some to send electronic mail messages, than to converse directly to a person on a phone. This gives rise to a trail of electronic messages, backing up in the incoming mailbox, because someone couldn’t have a conversation that would have taken a few minutes. One has to follow the trail of messages, even if only to see that one doesn’t need to respond. This takes time. Conferences are sometimes inadvertently run in this fashion. Real time conferences would seem to be more efficient, but no one has time to meet.

Those who send electronic messages, eschewing the opportunity of speaking directly with a person or a group, sit at the other end of the technological device(s), waiting impatiently for a reply.

Electronic messages take time to compose and send, to read and answer. You have to turn on an electronic device to do that. The device needs to be charged with energy. Is this the most efficient means of communication, if , for example, you live across the street from the person you are trying to contact? Perhaps we should think of the waste of time that emerges when we tally all the time we spend on the contraptions, rather than out in the world, talking and touching, seeing and breathing.

Words of wisdom that you heard, because they were spoken by particular a person in a particular way, by means of a certain emphasis, the inclusion of a smile, or some other nuance, stick with you your whole life. This is true even if the precise memory of the actual event, when the words were uttered, has faded. This is timelessness, that words can carry themselves across the span of a lifetime, and call to mind a living, breathing person.

Technology is wondrous, but it is a robber of time, as well a thin veneer of connection and communication. We have reduced our discussions to cute quips and sound bytes. I wonder, can words of wisdom stick in our head because they were sent to us via email? Have our thoughts also been reduced, to fit the medium? And our spirits?

This is unthinkable. But I want you to think on it, as I am thinking on it.

This life is an unfolding of time. While we are here, we fill our moments with the imprint of our existential experience, our struggles, our failures, our rebirths, our touch, our glances, our conversations, our laughter and our songs. This is time, and takes time to be well and truly spent.

The reduction of this wonder of time, unfolding through our very being, into sound bytes and badly typed quips saves nothing, says nothing and is worth very little. It will all be deleted in a second; which shows how important it all is in the scheme of things.

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