By Dean Whittaker

Our use of digital technology is reshaping our society and culture irreversibly.   It offers us expanded choices, but perhaps at a cost of our freedom.  In his book, What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, argues that technology may have taken on a life of its own.  We choose to use technology because of the benefits we perceive it offers but often are unaware of the costs it brings, he says.

With Apples’ introduction of the iPhone4 “Jesus phone”, the phone that is going to save us, and the now ubiquitous  iPad,  we take one more step down this path of always on, always connected to our social network.  Facebook offers us connections to 500 friends and relatives when we only have room in our heart to deeply care about 50.  We have become “prosumers” in which we produce the content and also consume it through our “tweets”, wall postings, Google searches, and other methods by which we leave a digital trail for marketers to follow. Google Voice provides us one number for all our telephone communications while recording (archiving) our conversations and converting them to text ostensible to email our voicemail to us while at the same time capturing and analyzing our conversation to enhance the relevance of their advertising to us. Have you ever wondered why Google stock is over $500 per share?

While technology alters time and place, it also takes away presence.  Where are we when we are talking on our cell phones while driving, walking down the street, or worst still, in the restroom?   Where are we when we are starring at our iPad screen while having a conversation with our spouse?  Where are we when we treat each other as objects between us and our technology?

With a basement full of techno-trash (last year’s must have gadgets), I feel that I have bought into this perpetual upgrade to the “latest new” mantra of the “technium” in which the device is no longer cool.  My hope is that someday I will open a museum to show how we came to be part of the “Singularity” as describe by Ray Kursweil in which man and machine merge.

Lest you think I’ve gone off the edge and have joined the uni-bomber in his attempt to take us back to the stone ages, I believe that there is more good than bad that our technology provides us.  We just need to be making conscious choices on how and when we use technology and be fully aware of both the costs and the benefits.  Try an experiment of not communicating through digital technology for one day, and you will understand our addiction.  When done with a group of college students, they displayed the same symptoms as those addicted to drugs.  Our brains are being re-wired by the digital technology we use!

As a society of “prosumers” we have an opportunity to shape our culture by the choices we make in the way we use technology.  We can use it to connect us, enhance our intellect, and open new ways to show our love for each other.  Through our conscious choices, we need to be selective in how, when, and where we use digital technology.