Society and Technology Completely Intertwined:
In nineteenth century England a group
of British textile workers would gather
secretly in the dead of night. Conspiring
and seething, their purpose was the
destruction of automated machines for
which were thought to be the beginning
of the end for the day laborer.
This group of working class men was most famously known as the Luddites and they were hell bent on aborting new technology in its infancy. Notorious throughout England during the 1800s, the Luddites, led by General Ned Ludd, risked their lives to protect the "workingman" from vanishing
altogether. They burned cotton mills,
sabotaged machines and even killed to
protect their traditional way of life, a life that was being threatened by the coming of age of the modern world.
Ever since fire was discovered, civilization has been in a constant state of fluidity; ever changing, ever moving. New technology and humanity go together like tea and honey, and we have come a long way since the days of the Luddites. Although you most likely won't see individuals burning their iPhones or destroying the latest G5 Apple computer, there are some who simply can't keep up with the demands technology forces upon us. But for them, ignorance can no longer be bliss.
Technology is expanding at lightning speed, and just when you think you are one up on the latest thingamabob, doodad or doohickey, something else newer and shinier comes along. Today you can shop, listen to
music, read, correspond and socialize
with friends without ever leaving the
comfortable confines of your couch. The
tap, tap, tap of a computer keyboard is
a more familiar sound than "olly olly
oxen free," sang by children long before
Nintendo DS came along.
Most of us are bound in some way or another to the will of technology whether we want to admit it or not. You cannot avoid the barrage of marketing propaganda that sells the idea you're not "hip" unless you own the latest Blackberry Curve.
Ben Morris, Director of IT at a major
advertising agency in Los Angeles, surmises, "The drug of technology
is very easy to drink. It's a way to
stimulate yourself." Has society become
techno addicts needing a fix? Or are
we just following the natural course of
Today children as young as five years old are going to school with cell phones in their tiny backpacks. The Generation X clan have no need for face-to-face time anymore. They simply type cursory verbiage into a machine, eliciting the same perfunctory response from a "cyber friend," out there in cyberspace hoping and praying someone
For some, technology is all about appearances. "The entire world is virtual," remarks Bridget, a twenty-something office receptionist. "I would feel alone without the Internet." You can project an image and make people believe you're happy, busy
and having fun. It's like the tabloids
of ourselves," she raves. I asked Bridget to suspend her virtual orbit for 48 hours, but sensing her unease about relinquishing her cyber throne, I revised my request to a single day.
Needless to say, when the time expired,
Bridget couldn't wait to re-enter her
virtual world. "I went nutty catching
up on everything. I've been on, like,
five screens, reading emails and I read
celebrity gossip too," she says.
Much like the 19th century Luddites,
if only in principle, there are some who
object to the idea of technology being
forced upon them. Tammy, a Santa
Monica College student, voluntarily
gave up her gadgets without much
protest. "I initially gave up my phone
and Internet for economic reasons,"
she says. "Now I like not having a cell
phone. I like being disconnected. No
one can contact me 24 hours a day."
A report published by the National Labor
Committee, a New York based human rights group, identifies teenagers aged 13-18 as "spending at least 72 hours a week on the Internet." Another study by Pew Internet & American Life Project 2005 indicates 84% of
teens confess to "owning some type of electronic device," which they use to talk, instant message and email friends.
In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau cited, "Americans will spend nearly half their lives going online." Whether it's emailing, networking with friends or simply researching a term paper, the reality is technology, to some extent, has replaced our traditional way of living. According to Ron Furst, a clinical psychologist with a PhD, today's social driven technology is not all that it is cracked up to be. "Virtual networking is a young thing. It's a different social milieu than the past.
Technology has made relationships less personal and has reduced intimacy a great deal," he says. "Relationships are interrupted by electronics and there is no down time. Our free time is stolen. People
work 24 hours."
One can admit that the offspring of some of today's technology have made a significant difference in our daily functioning, particularly in the workplace. The Blackberry has virtually, no pun intended, crushed the time zone. You no longer have to wait until you get into the office to know what New York is thinking. China
doesn't seem as far away when you
can have real-time communication via
teleconferencing. The time it took to
stamp and send a document across the
country ten years ago takes a fraction
of a second today via email.
If General Ludd were alive today would he really protest the technology that enabled Outlook Express? We can only speculate. What is certain is the ideology behind technology will never lose its thrust.
Should we worry about society's obsession with technology and our never ending hunger for access to information? If we can use it to incite genuine progress that actually does some good for the planet, like finding
alternative energy or ending global
warming, then maybe not.
In 1985, Robert Calvert wrote a song about General Ned Ludd. His lyrics include the following passage: "They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy. That all he could do was wreck and destroy. He turned to his workmates and said, 'Death to machines. They tread our future and wreck our
dreams.'" Words to ponder, or to email to a friend on MySpace.