Planned Obsolescence

I write this on an old laptop. Its weight and heat is noticeable across my thighs. A certain clunkiness pervades the whole apparatus. Its real keyboard has fat keys which depress audibly beneath my fingers. To those who delicately brush their digits across iPad touch screens and to those double-thumbing smartphones with abandon, I may as well be hammering into stone with a chisel.

But I prefer my relic. The times are passing it by, and that fits me. Yahoo no longer displays well on her screen. The widgets all run together until some aren’t even visible. There’s a general “this doesn’t look right” feel about everything. I’m sure web pages come together in razor-sharp, pixelated app-infested beauty on a tiny smartphone screen, but for me I must browse away quickly to text-heavy sites. I need large blocks of white background with jet black New Times-Roman 12-point cutting across it in perfect rows.

I am a Luddite. Yes, I see the irony of railing against technology on a blog intended for viewing with machines of modern invention. I get the humor of me just now going on Wikipedia to look up Luddite and wasting five minutes reading about “19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817.” And even if it doesn’t look like it, spell check has saved me countless times in the past 15 minutes.

But I also realize technology rarely improves anyone’s life in a meaningful way. Things that matter have always transcended technology. Yes, technology allows me, for example, to communicate regularly with those I love on the other side of the country. But technology also instigated my move from their loving embrace in the first place some 28 years ago when I took a software job in Arizona.

For each blessing technology bestows upon us, it takes another away. Our final state is akin to our brethren centuries ago who stumbled around in the dark chewing dried jerky and worrying about tomorrow. In the end our needs are the same as they have always been: to survive, to be loved, to be needed, and to have meaning in life. All else, be it fish, fowl, or rockin’ app either moves us closer or further away from meeting those needs. But they are the vehicle not the destination.

My distrust of technology stems partly from its implied arrogance. I reject your insistence that life is richer because you can sit at a table dining with a friend while answering text messages from another friend, while following the Tweets of your favorite actor, while tracking the score and highlights of a football game.

We claim the privilege of God to live wholly and completely in five places at one time. But in reality rather than fully engaging the world we are in, we exchange the masterpiece for five stick-figure crayon images.

I had an interesting experience after lunch a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful day in Arizona, so I decided to enjoy the sunshine. I took a walk along one of the pathways in the tech park where I work. A number of other people must have gotten the same idea, and I passed them all along the walkway. But each person I passed took no notice of me or the sunshine.

They were all engaged in that other world inside their smartphones. There was a guy leaning against a bench furiously jabbing his thumbs into the device, a menacing smirk crossing his face. A young woman walked in drunken circles while chatting endlessly about someone she detested. Another man walked forward unsteadily in a zombie-like trance focused upon the small plastic rectangle in his hand.

I had the strange sensation of living in an bad SciFi movie. Everywhere I turned were people who seemed like alien life forms. They had adopted the physical vestiges of human beings, but in reality were only clumsy extensions of a brain buried deep inside that rectangle of plastic. It seemed as if I might have walked buck naked through the tech park without raising so much as an eyebrow.

Near the end of my walk I passed a bush and was startled by a sparrow that fluttered in amongst the branches and then sat there cocking its head around as though sharing my same curiosity about the scene. As I watched him, he tipped an eye toward me and chirped. It almost seemed the sparrow was asking, “Where’s your device?”

It did make me wonder if I was missing something. Is life better, richer, more fulfilling within the digital landscape than in the world God created? Certainly there is digital gold to be mined, but I choose not to cast off my soul in the process.

Somewhere in Ecclesiastes (I’d Google it right now if I weren’t so lazy) it says something like: “What has been will be and what has been done is done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking technology brings anything new to the table. If you are a miserable human being, technology will make you more miserable faster to more people. If you are a wonderful human being, technology will make you more wonderful to a bigger world. But be you miserable or be you wonderful, trust me, you will be you regardless of the clothing.

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