When I was in high school in the 1970s, everyone suddenly had their own handheld calculator. Mine allowed me to narrowly escape having to learn how to use a slide rule instead. But ever since, despite their convenience, there has been debate about whether using calculators causes us to forget how to perform basic math on our own.
In fact, this question has been around for as long as there has been “technology” that promised to make our lives easier. In his 2010 book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers related that when writing was invented, many feared that it would cause people to lose their ability to remember things! I’m glad people decided to keep on writing things down.
In folklore, John Henry fought against technology and in the end, “he hammered his poor heart to death.” I don’t want to be John Henry, choosing to die rather than change, but I also don’t want to blindly allow technology to change me without considering the consequences.
New technologies are going to continue to appear and be adopted. But incorporating new things into our lives does not excuse the cessation of rational thought, the abandonment of common courtesy and an absence of appropriate skepticism. Ignoring someone standing in front of me—be it stranger, friend or spouse—to stare at a screen, or accepting baseless accusations because they demand our attention is indefensible.
Whenever the next new thing comes along, we need to retain control and think about how we can use it responsibly, because technology makes a great slave but a terrible master.