Editor's Column: Technology Is Taking Over Our Lives

29 October 1999

By Stentor Danielson

This weekend, I flew to Colorado to see the men's ice hockey team battle Colorado College. When I sat down on the plane, I noticed a little phone-like device attatched to the seat in front of me. A display on it advertised "Up-to-the-minute stock quotes!" and "Check e-mail or voice mail!" It got me thinking about what kind of a person would need such a thing.

My first thought was that these people must be unneccessarily obsessive. Could't they wait the few hours until the plane reached Denver? I saw no harm in simply reading Freud or dozing off into a dream about The Maroon-News office (perhaps a sign that I spend too much time here). But further thought made me change my tune.

Upon returning, I found that I had several pages worth of e-mails waiting to be read. Perhaps, I mused, if I had checked my e-mail while I was on the plane, I wouldn't have had to spend a few hours cleaning out my account.

To make matters worse, webmail chose this week to delay incoming messages by several hours. A friend complained to me that the system delivered excuses from theater participants well after the rehearsal that the people were excusing themselves from. It was a definite problem, but there was nothing he or the senders could do about it.

Technology claims that it will make our lives easier. The term "labor-saving device" is part of our basic vocabulary. But, this week made me wonder whether this was really true.

There was a time when I could spend a weekend camping on Blue Mountain with nothing more high-tech than a propane lantern. Upon my return, all it took was a hot shower to get me back in sync with the normal world. But I find that spirit hard, if not impossible, to recapture now.

I have tried. I've spent time hiking in the Adirondacks with Outdoor Education. I brought nothing more than what I could fit in my backpack (clothes and toothpaste) on last weekend's excursion to Colorado.

But every time, I returned to find a backlog of technology waiting for my attention. There were e-mails to be read. There were news and humor websites that I hadn't checked in days. There were Instant Messenger away messages to be looked at. There were Rock-Paper-Scissors challenges to be answered.

That's right, even the simple game of Rock-Paper-Scissors has transmogrified into an on-line format. Thanks to the Brunching Shuttlecocks, the personal interaction and cries of "one, two, tree, shoot!" have been replaced by pull-down menus and e-mail notifications.

The recent problems with webmail make me wonder how we could function without electronic communication. I worry about the implications of our dependency. What if something -- a terrorist, the Y2K bug or even a malicious kid who's too smart for his own good -- should decide to create a super virus that would cripple the Internet and its subsidaries?

I don't mean to encourage you to panic, or incite a jihad against technology. But, we must keep in mind that we are trusting many matters of importance to machines about what most of us know next to nothing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go check my e-mail.

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