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Thursday, January 20, 2022

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Technology turns us into drones


Thanks to the large number of students that have created a vibrant population explosion on campus, there is a chance to see not only the sheer variety of people who bustle about the place, but also the level to which technology is incorporated into the life of the average student.

Common student experiences range from staring at powerpoint presentations in class, to texting while walking to and fro from class (and in class, of course), talking while driving or simply sitting in the campus shuttle nodding one’s head to the iTunes of an iPod, while social networks take up the rest of the time. And occasionally, as exams approach, one punches up the calculator to its limit, or scours the web for some quick data.

This level of technology penetration is something that has been commented upon and discussed to shreds by people at all levels of expertise, and for the most part the changes have been accepted as contributing positively to life.

There are, however, some situations that would probably not have been all that common a decade ago: a bus full of college students, not one of them speaking to the person next to them but incessantly texting or talking to someone elsewhere, or else simply staring off into nothingness while avoiding eye contact.

In other words, it has been noticed that the indulgence in technology has created a corresponding apathy to everyday experience.

One of the best examples of this is seen in a study done by the Washington Post in 2007 named “Pearls before Breakfast”, where well-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, acclaimed as a prodigy in his younger days, performed the world’s best pieces of music on a $3.5 million dollar violin in a busy metro subway in Washington D.C. His day’s collection was all of $32, with just a handful actually stopping to listen for any good length of time. The rest were busy passing through, many with their own iPods plugged in, in spite of the fact that a single seat for his concert would cost upwards of $100.

The combination of technology and a hurried lifestyle appears to be deadening us and seriously begs the question of how one is to deal with it.

One of the most common techniques suggested for people who are addicted to technology is to keep the exposure within limits. This mode of thinking suggests that keeping an upper limit to our usage of technology, such as the age-old method of parents sending their kids off to bed after a certain time in front of the TV, keeps the problem in control.

Although this method of limiting the amount of time works in the short term, it does not address the issue of imbalance. When one uses a tool, such as a calculator, it provides an ease of performing tasks, provided one has the necessary knowledge — in this case, a reasonable capacity to calculate mentally.

If one has not developed that capacity, a calculator transforms from a tool into a crutch, up to a limit that even to divide a number by 10, one reaches for the calculator. The mental capacity gets deadened.

It is simple to see that limiting the use of the calculator means little. Attempting to limit the use of any piece of technology helps no one. What one needs is the analogue of the mental capacity to calculate, a capacity that provides a balancing agent for the tool.

Limiting usage just reduces the amount, while a balancing agent offsets that amount. This is like adding weight on the other side of a weighing balance.

This provides us with a way to deal with the presence of technology in our lives. We must look for the offset for the tools, as suggested by the use of the tools themselves. When one looks at a phone, it provides instant access to talk to known people who are elsewhere. The offset would be to develop the habit of talking to unknown people who are right next to you — in the elevator, or the bus or while in line somewhere.

TV and movies provide a tool to see stories via image, and the offset of these devices would be when one visualizes a story, either while reading a book, or when actually writing or dramatizing a story using one’s own imagination.

iPods and music players enable one to listen to music of an artist, and the corresponding offset would be to sing, howsoever horribly, or hum a tune when one is engaged in any task during the day.

Social networks enable one to carry out even the most trivial conversations with people all over the world. The required offset for social networks would be to set aside a small period of the day in silence, speaking to no one. Or, at most, speaking to oneself.

It is a simple matter of observing what a particular tool provides, and developing the offset of that function in one’s life. That shows us that every tool can be used well, and that every tool also challenges us to build up the corresponding ability. So the next time you text someone, make sure that you are a person who “gets the message” pretty quickly.

Gopi Vijaya is a graduate physics student and may be reached at [email protected]

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