The past couple of days I’ve been giving some fleeting thought to my own personal relationship to digital technology and technology more generally. At the first meeting of our New Media Seminar, I introduced myself by saying that I was generally a “late adopter” of new technology, whether digital or otherwise. After listening to others in the group characterize their sense of whether they readily embraced or shunned the latest whatever and giving it a bit more consideration, I think it’s actually more accurate to say that I am more of “selective adopter” than a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite (though I have to admit do have some Luddite tendencies as well).
I guess my general starting point is one of initial suspicious of the “Latest Big Thing That Is Going to Revolutionize Your Life.” As a historian of science, I have seen that most times the initial promises simply don’t pan out and almost invariably there are unforeseen consequences–social, economic, environmental, and more–associated with the adoption of any new technology. At the same time, I find the planned obsolescence that is at the very core of contemporary technology to be both irritating and incredibly wasteful. Nowhere does this seem more true than with computers and software, when models are released or updated every few months, new operating systems constantly produced, and new software ubiquitous. It is nearly impossible not to update everything fairly regularly, even if you have a robust system that seems to meet your needs entirely. It’s planned obsolescence taken to its logical and more ridiculous extreme.
But while I am suspicious from the get-go about new technologies of various sorts, I do selectively engage with them, and I don’t mind admitting when my initial qualms about a given technology were mistaken. Take the cell phone, for example. I was initially quite wary of getting one, because of cost, because I didn’t want to be readily available to the world 24/7, and because I saw no particular need to have one just because it was the latest “must have.” Since finally making the plunge almost three years ago, however, I have to say that I really like this technology–well, most everything except for the cost (which I continue to think is a bit excessive), dealing with Verizon (which, along with the cable companies, seems to always devising new ways to scam consumers), and the fact the phones seem to have a relatively limited lifespan. I really enjoy the opportunity to quickly touch bases with my wife by text a few times a day and to keep in touch with our kids and other family members. They are also super convenient when traveling.
I guess the trick is trying to figure out which technologies ultimately enrich our lives, like I think the cell phone has done, and which simply burden us (and ultimately our natural world) with more expensive, time-sucking, fleetingly fashionable, and soon-to-be-obsolete junk.