Technology has always been a crucial determiner in the course of human history. People with bronze and iron weapons beat the guys with wood weapons. Spaniards with guns beat entire civilizations with spears. People with access to medication and complex medical procedures have greater health than those without. The 20th century was no exception. We saw technological advances that have shaped our world. The “progress” is certainly speeding up in the 21st century. In the 1960’s we put humans into space. Now Virgin Galactic will make that possible for anyone who can put up the cash. In the 1980’s a “cellular phone” was a totally different animal; not only were people impressed that you could afford it but that you could lift it! Now there are children carrying around a device that not only makes calls, but can take pictures, record videos, and access the internet. Now, things like that get me excited; because I can sneak a peak at my fantasy team in the middle of youth group! But do we realize the impact technology has had in recent years on community?
Now, prepare to be impressed because I’m about to quote from a 2006 article titled “The Malignant Social Consequences of Modern Technology on Communities!” Written for the Journal of Evolution & Technology, the author highlights air conditioning, the automobile, and television as three advances in technology that eroded at community. This makes a lot of sense. Before AC, people spent a lot of time on their porch because it was too dang hot in the house, now you can stay comfy indoors- away from all your neighbors. In our cars we can travel long distances without having to interact with anyone, and we are robbed of exchanging casual courtesies with people we could have passed in the street. The impact of television is huge: not only is community crumbling within our neighborhoods, but within our own homes! You can sit in a room with your family watching TV, even during dinner, but are you actually doing anything meaningful or just all starring at the lighted box? Since last August my sister and I have been without cable; partly to save money, but mostly to stick it to Charter, one of the most inept companies on the face of the planet. The first several weeks Kelly and I were amazed at how much we talked to each other. When we had friends over, we would play a game or just sit around and interact where we previously would have turned on one of the bazillion channels and just sat there, together, but not relating. Our technology allows us to be around other people but not really with them. Cell phones and MP3 players erode at our community. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Walking across my college campus I would put in headphones- that weren’t connected to anything. I would just stuff the end in my pocket, and that way I wouldn’t have to exchange the usual pleasantries with people I passed by. Cell phones offer the promise of connecting with anyone across the country- and at the same time disconnecting with everyone around you.
Am I saying that we should all grow beards, forsake technology, and join the Amish? No. Although it would be cool if we all grew beards. I think we’ve all witnessed the rude-guy-on-the-cell-phone phenomenon, but if it weren’t for my cell phone, and free AT&T in network minutes, I honestly don’t know how Sarah and I would have survived our 3 year long distance relationship. With TiVo your whole family can enjoy a show together, without having to schedule your lives around the next episode of “idol”. The Nintendo Wii is one of the best inventions ever. My whole family can play together, and I’m even embarrassed to admit that my 82 year old Grandmother beat me in Tennis! Technology can lead us into good community, but we have to work hard at it. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the impact of technology on community. Progress can lead us in the wrong direction.