Giving technology the boot

By Kendra Perry

“The typical Canadian spends on average an hour and a half on their cell phone, 2.6 hours on the internet and 3.7 hours in front of the television per day.”

-Public Health Agency of Canada

The word detox is usually associated with the removal of toxins from the body. Many people participate in rituals to cleanse themselves and gain a better understanding of the things they consume on a daily basis. Recently, a friend of mine was instructed to put a twist on the detox diet and apply it to modern technology for a class. For three days she was told to write about her experience living without her cell phone, the Internet, television and radio. This experiment piqued my interest, especially since these things are so woven into the fabric of our society we believe our lives are inadequate without them. We’re dependent on information available at the click of a mouse and the ability to communicate with anyone by pressing send on our cell phones. We’re so accustomed with this instantaneous way of life, we can’t fathom living another way. In order to figure out some of the consequences our reliance on technology has produced, I decided to join my friend on her crazy adventure and give technology the boot for three days.

My experience without technology was interesting and some thought-provoking points were brought to my attention. I decided to track down an expert to better understand my experience. I enlisted the help of University of Calgary communications studies professor, Dr. Gwendolyn Blue. Together we sat down and discussed how technology is changing the world around us and what the outcome of these changes will be.

We discussed how removing technology from my life, no matter how hard I tried, was virtually impossible. Commercial radio plays everywhere, even in doctors’ offices. As students, we are utterly dependant on the Internet–in the three days without checking my email, I missed three deadlines and showed up for a cancelled lab. Our relationship with technology is clearly one of dependency, but to what extreme?

“What people fail to realise is that we are integrated into technology,” Blue said. “Our computer is an embodiment of ourselves. We are not separate from that computer. It is an extension of our senses.”

This all sounded very futuristic, but the rationality was dead on. This point sunk in during the reactions I received when telling people about my detox. Most people didn’t understand why I’d do such a thing and went on to tell me how they could never do the same. It was the kind of reaction I’d expect if I decided to swear off technology for the rest of my life, not a mere three days.

Our dependence on technology is strengthening, and it’s changing the way we function in every day life. One morning while riding the C-Train I counted the number of people speaking on their cell phones. Three stops amounted to 34 people on their cell phones and only four engaged in actual face-to-face conversation. This made it clear technology is changing social networks and the way we communicate with each other. By consequence, our language is evolving from its traditional auditory and visual roots to reflect the change.

“We hear the spoken words and the tone of the voice,” Blue clarified. “We look for non-verbal cues such as hand motions and eye contact. These factors help us to form meaning. Now we are forming new codes for interpreting meaning.”

These new codes aren’t hard to find. With MSN messenger and text messaging, it’s apparent language is becoming briefer. We shorten our sentences and change the spelling of words to make the act quicker, reflecting the very nature of our society. It will be interesting to see how this affects the way we communicate with each other in the future.

“Whether the consequences of this will be negative or positive is unclear,” said Blue. “What we do know is that it is changing us and that is incredibly exciting. But we will have to wait to see the results.”

It’s impossible to deny the positive changes technology has produced in our lives, but there are negative consequences as well. I started to think about technology’s negative aspects when I noticed the amount of advertisements scattered on billboards, the C-Train and the university. Everywhere I looked there was some clever poster telling me the inadquencies of my possessions. My cell phone needs to be smaller, my television needs to be bigger than my living room and my Internet isn’t fast enough. There is always a new ad pitch, swearing some product will make life easier and more convenient. Consequently, technology is persistently changing and as a result nothing is built to last longer than it takes for the next best thing to become available.

“Most of what we own is disposable,” said Blue. “As a result, we have become a throw-away society.”

We’re constantly bombarded by ads on our computers, televisions and even our cell phones. Through this blitz, we are persuaded into believing we need things we actually don’t. Eventually all of these superfluous items end up in landfills. These devices don’t biodegrade and will remain there for millions of years. Our constant desire for new products also contributes to other environmental issues, sometimes in unexpected ways.

When people think of climate change they tend to think of their cars, but there’s more to it. Huge amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing of cell phones. Computers and televisions require vast amounts of energy to function, and in Alberta, a lot of energy comes from coal power.

“We need to take a look at what we are doing here,” Blue added. “Until we can see the big picture and these simple connections, how can we even start to solve a problem as huge as global warming?”

Obviously technology has had a vast effect on the world and our lives. Truthfully, there isn’t enough space on this page to even scratch the surface of the issue. Though recommending a society-wide detox on technology isn’t feasible, we’ve become so saturated by technology a cleanse could only develop a better understanding of its impact on our lives.

What we do need to do, as Blue pointed out, is take a step back and ask ourselves some serious questions. Has technology allowed us to do anything otherwise impossible? What’s worthwhile and what’s trivial? And the biggest question of all: do we need shiny new gadgets or have we just been coerced into believing so? Unfortunately, answers to these questions vary from individual to individual. But unless we begin to realize the effect technology has on us as individuals, we’ll never notice the changes it makes on us collectively.


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