Advances in technology like artificial intelligence will bring innovations that humans thought not possible. Autonomous vehicles that can see and predict the movements of children playing on sidewalks, machine learning algorithms that can identify tumors in x-ray images, phone cameras that can distinguish your facial features among millions of other users to unlock your Facebook profile; these technological advances already exist and will only become more sophisticated. The possibilities and good that can come from our technological renaissance is limited only by our human compassion. Today, technology is ever-present and necessary to operate society as we know it. The binding of human and technology is evolution in fast-forward, our reality is one inseparable from technology.
Few instances allow for the departure from our gadgets. We need GPS to navigate in and out of the most remote and wild spaces. We rely on the internet and phone for most of our communications, with a simple emoji sufficing for deep emotional expressions. To sit and think and wonder without turning to Lord Google, whose knowledge knows no bounds, for the name of the actor who played the Steward of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, seems preposterous (John Noble, thanks Google). Why shouldn’t I have that knowledge immediately?
Instant access, instant knowledge, instant gratification. This seems so intuitive and helpful. But let’s ponder the alternative. In non-life-threatening circumstances, what happens if there’s a problem for which we do not know the solution? Several options:
1) We take our ball and go home, there is no solution to the problem
2) Ask a friend, rely on their intellect to solve your problem
3) Take 10 minutes to think about your problem, try different approaches, get creative, get frustrated, kick a rock, sit down in quiet defeat until an alternative approach to your problem presents itself. Or simply give up. Failure is fine.
So, it seems possible that we can at least, in some circumstances, attempt life and living without our technological-diapers. We can do it.
Where? When? How?
It’s so easy for us to get caught in our dependent, unhealthy relationships with technology. We need phone and internet to communicate with family, friends, co-workers, and clients. We need cameras to document that we did something neat and saw something beautiful. We need earbuds to listen to fascinating or funny podcasts or lose ourselves in concertos of classical guitar. We need Google Earth the visit a street in a country we’ve never been to, or Ted Talks to tell us about ideas and ways of living we never thought of. But what’s the alternative?
Hand-write a letter. It’s very refreshing to write words with pen on paper, to scratch out a misspelled word or crunch the last few letters because you misjudged the amount of space that word would take up. Write to one person. It is a personal gift that people rarely receive anymore.
Leave your camera(phone). Sharing your experience with others is a very gratifying part of life but keep some experiences for yourself. Paint a beautiful picture of your experience with words and description and emotion. Remember it on your own. Keep reliving it.
Create or seek creativity. You can write poetry, stories, or music. You can build a fire pit. You can cook a meal. Give yourself credit for being the result of evolutionary processes. Your ancestors had it hard, but if they could do it, some part of your genetic code makes it possible that you can do it too.
So… now what?
As I sit here, writing this idea on my Asus laptop computer, I feel conflicted…
I want more of my life to be operated sans technology. It feels good. It’s a challenge. But there’s a good argument to be made that perhaps life can be full of rich experiences with the aid of technology. Perhaps when we can fully embrace and realize a healthy coexistence with technology, we can uncover our full human potential. Perhaps it’s not the elimination of technology from our lives, but the careful consideration of when it should be used. Or…
Perhaps in the future, disconnecting from technology will be a privilege. If everything becomes connected through data and gps services, only those who can afford to escape the ever-increasing wireless coverage can truly be free of technology. Perhaps in some weird dystopian Orwellian (see 1984) future, we won’t have the right to be free of tracking or information availability. Humanity will become a collapsing star, once radiant, now barreling in on itself by the shear immensity and density of data and information.
Where some see endless possibilities of the human-technology symbiosis, I think there is yet more to be discovered and explored of human capabilities. Our perceptions of reality are shaped by our social structures. Break out of the normal, and into the bizarre. Get weird. We are fascinating. Whereas we oftentimes struggle to remember the time and date of meetings, we can also memorize thousands of digits of π (pi). Whereas humans are notoriously clumsy compared to other creatures, we can create beautiful works of art with our fingers and bodies. When we consolidate memories during sleep, we can have epiphanies and make connections and discoveries that just eluded conscious contemplation. Humans are incredible structures, let’s see what we can do when unbound by traditional or tethered systems of thinking.
Perhaps leaving behind technology from time to time may actually help us create better technology that enhances human existence. What would happen if we took away all technological aids and dumped a group of people into a dry sub-Saharan desert region. I can almost guarantee we would witness the emergence of new ideas for gathering and conserving resources.
How do we let go of our devices and even helpful tools that make living so convenient? I’m not an expert of the elimination of addictive behaviors (though I have some formal education on the topic). Here are some suggestions…
1) Leave your phone at home once or twice a week during work or when going out with friends.
2) Take a break from Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu. Your favorite shows will be there tomorrow. Try reading, writing, or creating art.
3) Close your laptop or power-down your computer. If you work 9–5, e-mails can wait until you are actually working and on the clock.
4) Go for a walk or bike ride in a place you’ve never explored. Just go. No GPS. Don’t worry about knowing where you are. Explore. If you get lost, ask a stranger for directions, or keep working to find your way home.
5) Enjoy the struggles of humanity. We evolved into these amazing creatures to solve advanced problems. To see colors and smell flowers. To make and hear music. To be resilient to failure. To make personal, bonded connections. Things could be much worse. We could be potatoes.
Be human, escape from your technologically-tethered reality every now and again. Surprise yourself. Enjoy life, the mysteries, and the familiar.