Sunday, May 24, 2009

Are We Addicted to Technology?

There was a show today on EWTN, the Catholic TV network, about our societal attraction (addiction?) to technology. "Faith & Culture" featured an interview with Eric Brende, the author or "Better Off - Flipping the Switch on Technology," about his 18 month stay among a strict religious community that eschewed not only technology, but any type of electricity or motorized devices.

As a kid, Brende's father bought one of the first word processors. He noticed that while these new devices were being billed as time savers, his father became increasingly tied to the device. Later in a graduate program at MIT, Brende described himself as going against the grain in looking at the challenge of technology, particularly its tendency to remove humans from nature and interpersonal interactions.

A convert to Catholicism at 22, he began thinking more intently about the Church's admonitions against the unintended impacts of technology, particularly Pope Paul VI's societal warnings offered in Humane Vitae.

After marrying, the newlyweds moved to a rural community to farm in an environment with no electricity, motorized tools, or indoor plumbing. Despite the utter lack of technology, Brende characterized their life as more leisurely. His contention, addressed in the book about their 18 month experience, is that technology compartmentalizes activities and increases time pressures.

One example? Mowing with a push mower addresses functional aspect of mowing and creates an opportunity for exercise. A technologically advanced self-propelled mower however, only gets the lawn mowed. The person mowing, having completed the chore with no real exertion, is then compelled to drive to a gym to exercise. He also cited barn raisings as another example; both the functional need of building a barn and the societal dimension of neighbors interacting and bonding are satisfied.

Brende now lives in St. Louis, in the city's urban center. While it might appear in contrast to a rural existence, he cited his family's ability to get around by walking or biking and the proximity to neighbors in similar situations as creating interpersonal dimensions that don't happen as readily in the suburbs or even many rural areas. His family home schools, and Brende earns a living making soap and driving a bike taxi primarily in and around St. Louis Cardinals baseball games.

His suggestions for people wanting to start to shake ties to technology include walking or biking to work, home schooling, and eliminating or at least minimizing watching TV or working on the computer to increase the time for genuine, personal interaction.

A challenging message, yet one that certainly rings true. My time away from this blog has been a result of some new family responsibilities emerging in the past few months. I can't ignore, however, the time spent developing new presentations and Twittering as drains reducing my time for personal reflection and aligning my life to what's important. It's something I'll definitely be working on in the coming months.

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