Being smart about our technology: The power of choice

Today has been a good day for reflecting on what it means to have some of the most advanced technology ever created by man. Technology has brought us far, but with its advancement come some warnings.

A recent article titled “Programmed for Love” about Sherry Turkle (whom I love) appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently. In it, Jeffery Young discusses Turkle’s research and thoughts on robots as companions and caretakers. Recently, the field of robotics has shown a dramatic increase in sophistication with robots being created to give a sense of “connection” to human beings. But Turkle warns of the pitfalls of becoming socially incapable due to taking too open an embrace of these seemingly loving robots.  Robots can never be humans, period.

The article also discusses the problematic trend of individuals becoming more and more attached their portable electronic devices. Rarely can a moment pass in which people aren’t checking their email or Facebook. Thus, Turkle warns of being careful when embracing technology.  But this issue of being careful of embracing technology is nothing new. It occurred when the printing press was invented and has continued ever since (and occurred even before that). So, the question is, “How can I be a smart consumer of technology?” Well, easy. And not so easy. Basically, one must learn to ask questions like, “How does this benefit me?” “What should I use and what should I pass up?” I like to use the analogy of food. Just because there is some food out there that will kill us and is terrible for us (e.g., fast food) doesn’t mean we just stop eating. Rather, we should be critical consumers of the food we eat. In much the same way, we shouldn’t just forget modern technology. And news flash – it’s here and keeps coming, so good luck ignoring it as the world rapidly changes around you! But we should “taste” things and figure out what helps us and increases positive things like efficiency, communication (with humans!), collaboration, creativity, interest, innovation, etc. Those things that don’t do this, we don’t have to keep using.

Conveniently enough, Kevin Kelly touched on this point in a webinar hosted today by the New Media Consortium (NMC). In it, he talks about how technology is a choice, and that we are constantly free to choose it or not.  He notes that we should not be afraid to explore and be open to trying to new things. But, he notes, we will take some of it and leave the rest. As he put it we should, “use technology that will maximize gifts.” YES! I can try anything I want and it doesn’t mean I have to keep using it. If it’s not working for me, then I should drop it! Technology is meant to enhance humans, not replace them or make them worse models of themselves.

And so, with the robots, we must do the same thing. We must find that line where robots enhance or maximize our gifts (e.g., mechanics, automobile production lines, etc.) versus replace us entirely and cause us to become less human or less involved as humans (e.g., using robots as romantic partners). For you see, technology should enhance our experience as learners, creators – as HUMANS.  Not detract from it.

About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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