Sunday, July 05, 2009

A Little Historical Perspective, Please

Every once in a while I stumble on an article like this one where the author laments the existence of some modern technology - in this case, Twitter and Facebook.

The author's argument seems to be broken down into two points: (1) he can't keep up with technology, as it's just whizzing by too fast. And (2) think of all the wasted time spent on this junk?

The first point I can appreciate - I was definitely late to the Facebook game, and still don't understand MySpace. Heck, the last video game I truly mastered was Doom, which is so antiquated I can now play it on my cell phone. I think it's perfectly reasonable to accept that some technology will pass you by - that's just life.

The second point, though, really gets me going. Enough so, that I end up writing blog posts like this one. Consider this quote from the article:

Imagine what could have been accomplished by the world’s Facebook population if they used their 13.9 billion minutes in April to plant a garden, go for a walk or accomplish something else a tad more constructive than commenting on someone’s cliche self-portrait photo.

Essentially, the author is saying that technology up to a certain point - in his case, E-mail, was useful. But, after that point, it's turned people's brains to mush. But is really possible to draw a line in the sand when it comes to technology?

Consider e-mail. Were all those silly forwards that used to clog up peoples inboxes a good thing? Or what about the hours people spent on the phone gabbing with their friends that wouldn't have been possible before the land line? Or how about a postcard, how much information can you really write on the back of a postcard - shouldn't you be writing a real letter? And sure, the telegraph could deliver news quicker, but do you really need news at the speed of electricity?

The thing is, all technology can be used for good or bad. That's just how it works. In 1776, you could use the printing press to publish smut, or to create pamphlets to inspire a revolution. In 2009, you can use Twitter for exactly the same purpose.

The fact is, twitter is helping people go for a walk and garden. It's just technology, like all the other advances that have come before it. It's got the possibility for good and evil and it's up to us to find a way to put it to work for good.

There, I feel much better.

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