Fall 1999

A Simpler Way of Life

Technology / October 4th

There is a rapidly emerging world of e-commerce, info appliances, online stock trading, faster, better NASA, Information at your fingertips, toilets that read you the news, and a vast array of technological gizmos designed to not only simplify your life but make someone else a lot of money. In this age of technocapitalism, where science is developing at a rate only salivating marketers can keep up with, a lot of people have developed an attitude of either "I don't understand all that stuff" or "If I don't embrace it I will be left behind."

People question whether all of this technology will improve their lives. The answer is "Of course not." For everything we add to simplify our lives, we add one more thing to complicate it. Think about the Amish. They decided that all this new-fangled Industrial Revolution stuff wasn't for them. That they would just stick with what they could make themselves, thank you. Now some people say "How can they live like that?" While others say "Wouldn't it be nice to get back to that more earthy, natural, simple way of life?" That's right, simpler way of life. At the same time, the new combo cell-phone/pager/web browser/tic-tac dispenser promises the same thing. In all honesty, technology doesn't simplify anyone's life. It just makes it different. If you see that difference as an improvement, so be it. Buy the new toy and be happy. If you think it 's all just crazy, useless circuits and one more battery to charge, then don't buy it. Just as the Amish have the choice of not using anything newer than 1845, you have the choice of not using anything newer than 1992. If CD players are the highest tech you want, then go for it. The problem is that the technology has not only billion-dollar ad campaigns and the testimonies of the converted, it has that mysterious allure that ensnares people.

Today we can communicate around the globe for free and exchange instant messages and digital music with people in Taiwan as easily as Detroit. Surely this means that technology is improving our world? Then again, how many Amish do you hear about going on killing rampages? With every "improvement" and "advancement" in technology comes a price. We have cars and the phenomenal convenience they offer, and in return we pay the price of horrific pollution and daily fatalities in car accidents. We don't have to worry about being hunted by tigers and mammoths, but then again that same cave-man only had a five hour work day. And his commute was usually pretty stress-free. No road rage or high gas prices, just constant fear of large and ferocious animals.

The interesting thing is that at this point, we need technology. We can't go back. Not unless half the world's population voluntarily commits suicide and we all become farmers. Besides, we don't exactly have consensus on returning to more primitive ways. In the end, change is just that: Change. It's not improvement or degradation, just change. If you can't deal with it, you're fearing the unknown, which is natural, but you're limiting yourself. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of technophilia, you're deluding yourself into thinking that Sony and Microsoft are going to make the world any better for you and me. Last time I looked, they were getting the better end of the deal.