Last Saturday, having been cooped up four days because of a freak ice storm in Dallas, I ventured to the grocery store. The street from my neighborhood to the main thoroughfare is entirely shaded, so it remained a solid sheet of ice. As I waited to turn onto it, a woman drove by—talking on her phone. My daughter and I made some appropriately disparaging comments about the woman’s intelligence, and I made sure to keep an even larger distance behind her car. Sure enough, as the woman approached the intersection, she hit the brakes too late and too hard. She skidded into the road and narrowly missed being broadsided.
The next day in the “Community Opinions” section, The Dallas Morning News had a point-counterpoint section entitled “Driven to distraction?” Elizabeth Suggs argues that one should “embrace the clutter that Facebook and other luxuries bring to your life.” Towards the end she writes,
...We’ve turned a lot of weird little ‘wants’ into ‘needs’ in modern society.
Take me, for example. While writing this column, I have checked my e-mail no less than 15 times. I’ve checked Facebook twice. I’ve listened to my iTunes on shuffle nonstop.
So when you read this column, if it seems scatter-brained, blame it on my media. But don’t blame me. I have to partake in these daily luxuries. They’re just as essential to me as my daily coffee and my TiVo queue. (Full column)
Contrast this to how Brynne Sissom begins her column:
As an author, I have been seeking better means to a better experience of writing and as a human being, a life better-lived. I found part of an answer when I read a review last autumn of Jonathan Franzen’s book, Freedom. The review’s photographs of his very bare writing room moved me. It was empty of books and research paperwork. It appeared that little or nothing was on the wall. You could liken his writing room to a cell, except that it was plenty big enough to walk around in. His computer wasn’t connected to the Internet. (Full column)
Sissom goes on to explain how much better life has been—professionally and personally—since she disconnected.
I’ve written about this before, in a post entitled “To Screen or not to Screen.” My final point in the column had to do with the development of an inner self. These two columns have prompted me to explore that idea a bit further.
Granted, both Suggs and Sissom represent the extremes in connectivity. The former is hyper-connected; the latter, non-connected. I don’t really see either as the issue. What strikes me as truly worrisome is that both cede personal control and ultimate responsibility. For example, Suggs is the author of the piece but we’re not not to blame her if the piece seems scatterbrained? I’d like to think I were missing some sarcasm. Sissom reminds me of Seth Godin’s refrain that people find all kinds of reasons “not to ship.”
It’s become all too easy for us to deify technology and ascribe it superpowers. But ultimately it’s just a tool, and how it’s used is a human decision. A pen can form the characters of a love letter or hate mail. The printing press has mass produced religious works, political tracts of every persuasion, and smut. On just about any issue, we blame media so easily that I think we forget that we can make up our own minds. This mindset also ignores the fact that media caters to our desires. It reminds me of along-in-office politicians who slam governmental gridlock as the reason things don’t done.
In any arena, how we act is up to us. We decide how we want to harness the power of technology. We can use it for great growth and communal knowledge, or we can watch hours of silly videos and check inane tweets the second they pop up. It’s about exercising our own self-discipline, depth, and integrity. (If you want some great suggestions on how to do so, read this.)
We also have to make sure we’re teaching our children this larger lesson. Education can’t just be about content or skills. It’s not about how to use technology. It’s not about behaving in a connected and/or virtual community. Education has to be about learning how to live a meaningful, purposeful life in any circumstances. Forgot that, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we see kids skidding dangerously on some ice.