In last week’s reading The Myth of the Disconnected Life, Farman highlights growing trends to disconnect from technology and reconnect with people. Interestingly, he too argues from history, just like Nicholas Carr, that people have always been afraid of new technology and the disconnection it supposedly breeds in society. Both claim via these arguments that the technology was not bad, or at least more good than bad. They are implicitly assuming first that the all of the previous historical technological breakthroughs listed are obviously good things for society. Thus it must follow that the current technology really isn’t as bad as we are making it out to be. While I don’t want to argue every point, I don’t think that this assumption can be made blindly or without consideration. Remember that much is lost as well as gained through technology.
While I don’t purport to know much about the Digital Sabbath movement, Farman exaggerates the claims of the Digital Sabbath proponents while making his argument against them. Saying that we need to take breaks from digital media – pick your reason – is not equivalent to calling all media evil. So the mere presence and usefulness of cool technologies like [murmur] and the Museum of London app does not disprove the need to rest our minds and lives from the digital blur around us.
Electronic technology used wisely and in moderation is an amazingly powerful tool but used wrongly is a horrible master. Just read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops. We can stay in touch with friends, explore the world, learn new things, etc. On the other hand, we can abuse it or worse yet disrespect other people or ourselves through it. The key is distinguishing between the two. Maybe the concept of disrespect is a more appropriate way of differentiating wise use of technology than disconnectedness. The latter is hard to judge, when we can interact and connect with people all over the world in productive ways through our electronics. In contrast when electronic interaction leads to isolation or neglect of responsibilities, we are disrespecting ourselves. When we ignore or interrupt others for the latest text or Twitter, we belittle the importance of the people who are present with us. As technology mushrooms around us, we must make a concerted effort to avoid disrespect and must learn to exercise the self-control to use technology appropriately without abusing it.