miércoles, 17 de febrero de 2010

Too much technology?

I´m going to get a bit philosophical, but I think a lot of you readers will agree with me. I was recently in San Francisco (USA) and while watching the people there Twitter and Facebook away their time, I had a revelation. It´s semi-ecological, semi-sociological, but many times these things are intertwined.

Firstly, I would like to mention that San Francisco is host to the world's largest Mac technology fair, Macworld, every January. Every year this company (and I`m not complaining about Apple, they are wonderfully innovative and creative and behaves as any successful company should) launches a new product at this fair which creates a stir in the Mac community, and subsequently a buying frenzy. This year the new product was the iPad... it´s basically a larger version of the iPhone. Starting at $499, it's not exactly an inexpensive new toy. It´s a wonderful tool to help you not to have to think too much... to help you never prepare anything or plan ahead. To keep you linked in with the virtual world and never have another a boring or unproductive moment. You can surf the internet on the 9.7 inch LED backlit display (ooooh), access your emails, save a million photographs, watch movies, listen to music (it´s got a built in iPod), buy online books, access maps, and of course holds a detailed contact and address book. All well and good, but nothing really new, same old stuff in a new package.

However this brings me to the concept of fashion and planned obscelecense. This concept is the bane of all ecological movements and way of thinking. It makes people feel unsatisfied with what they have, and creates a need to get something new, causing the existing fullfillment of these needs (a laptop, iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, etc) to lose value, turn suddenly to something out of fashion, something undesireable and to be thrown away. To continue using something which has been “outdated” would be an embarrasment for many people, even if the part which has become outdated is simply the packaging, in essence the technology is the same. In short, this marketing, free-market concept creates a very big pile of perfectly functional garbage as people throw out the old and make way for the new. And this happens year after year... not just with these Apple products, but with all products. However clothing and consumer electronics are the most afected. But instead of adapting or updating that what we have, we throw it away and get a new one. It´s more expensive to have your laptop repaired often times than to buy a new one! Where is the logic in this? Imagine the impact of this by just taking 100 products every year and multiplying it by, say half of the world´s population. This is a hell of a lot of garbage.

Do any of you remember the days of our parents and grandparents... the days when the TV in the living room wasn't replaced until the old one was so broken down and obselete there was no other option? They would use things until they either 1. no longer fullfilled their needs or 2. broke beyond repair and had to be replaced. “If it ain´t broke, don't fix it”. I remember this, and I'm just entering my 30's. But this attitude is pasé, and I can only shake my head when I see friends getting a new mobile phone every 4 or 5 months, simply because they want the newest. Or spending hundreds to thousands of Euros on a new TV which is 8cm thinnner than the one they already have hanging on their wall. They never comment on the wonderful new quality of the telephone call, or the improved picture quality, simply the new design, the newest technology.

I will come back now to San Francisco. I was there half for business, half for pleasure. Take the simple notion of a cigarette or coffee break. You and a few colleagues get up, get your coffee and you would expect, talk. Or go outside for a smoke, and well, talk. Give your brain and eyes a rest, disconnect, if only for a few minutes. But that was not the case. You go out of course, but in the end you see your fellow break-ees pull out their iPhones and Blackberrys while smoking or sucking down a cup of coffee with their attention fully devoted to whatever is “going on” in their wonderful virtual world. They are more in-tuned and interested in what is going on in cyberspace than what is really going on in front of them, and no one is talking. We´re forgetting how to communicate. We're forgetting how to relax. We´re forgetting how to be social beings and learning how to be virtual beings.

How many times do you hear colleagues talking about going on holidays and needing at least a week to “disconnect”? Does it surprise you? How is it possible to disconnect when everything you have, all our technology does everything to prevent anyone from disconnecting? Why do you need to go to some remote island or little tiny village without a mobile signal in order to achieve this (and even then, with your iPhone or Blackberry, this isn't even easily do-able)?

I think we would all do well to re-read Aldous Huxley's “Brave New World”. It´s really starting to come to this. An age in which no one has a free moment, in which every waking minute is spent doing something, anything. Boredom cannot and should not exist. Time to think is seen as dangerious and anti-social. This was written in 1931! Huxley saw it coming and we're getting ever closer. The people in this book were never alone, never allowed to pursue hobbies by themselves. They were always busy with social activities. Granted Huxley could never have imagined the internet back then, but we are getting ever closer to this kind of society, albeit virtual. How many people simply don't hear the world anymore? All they hear is the music blaring through their MP3 player... drowning out thought, drowning out reflection.

It's difficult to protect people from themselves. We need to realize newer is not necessarily better and won't make you a happier person. This rampant consumerism is not sustainable and it's not healthy. It not only creates a lot of waste, but it is changing our society and I don't think in a good way. We have technology to improve our lives (or at least that is the idea), but when the technology becomes the focus of our lives, it's easy to lose sight of what's real and what´s not. Ideas are born through thought and contemplation. Give yourselves the time to think. Allow yourselves to get bored. And for goodness sake, if what you have is still perfectly functional and serves your needs, don't throw it away to get the same thing in a newer package.

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