The word “transformed” has been used a lot in the week following Steve Jobs’ death, in large part to describe the impact the former CEO of Apple had on the world.
Has that transformation been good or bad, though?
Take a look at your life and consider how iPads, iPhones, iPods and other gadgets have changed the way you navigate your day. Clearly, these consumer technologies have made it easier and faster for us to access information and to stay in touch with each other. But, have these products actually made our lives better?
In the short run, I’m pretty sure the answer is yes. Technology allows single, working parents to keep in touch with their kids after school. Apple products have played a major role in the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street, and now Occupy Chicago, movements. iPads have also made a lot of people more productive.
But in the long run I fear that, unwittingly, Steve Jobs enabled a national addiction. That, I’m afraid, is the proverbial worm in the Apple. I’m afraid that technology has totally consumed some and has become more of an obsession than a means for a happier, healthier life.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a simple checklist that helps people determine if they’re addicted to alcohol. (I’m paraphrasing parts of it to apply to technology.)
Have you ever decided to cut back on the use of your iPhone, iPod and or iPad and couldn’t do it?
Do you wish people would mind their own business about your use of technology?
When you wake up in the morning, is checking your email the first thing you do?
Has your use of technology caused trouble in your relationships?
Have you told yourself you can go off line any time you want to and then realized later that you are still online at two in the morning?
Do you go through withdrawal when you don’t have your iProducts?
Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef has treated addictions for nearly 20 years and has published 13 books. According to one of those books, When Society Becomes an Addict, addiction is defined as “any process which takes control of us, causing us to do and think things that are inconsistent with our personal values and leading us to become progressively more compulsive and obsessive.”
It’s like the commercial where the guy is changing his baby’s diaper and his cell phone rings, and a football replay on his smart phone distracts him from taking care of his child. And the commercial treats this behavior as laudable, or at least humorous.
I, of course, notice it in church. Right in the middle of prayers – when we’re supposed to be having an intimate conversation with God – a cell phone will go off and the person in the pew will put God on hold so he or she will not miss the latest news.
On a more mundane level, it happens all the time when I’m with friends. The iPhone rings and it’s the face-to-face interaction that gets put on hold. Technology may connect us to a lot more people, but my experience indicates that it can also undermine intimacy.
Schaef also writes that addictions are progressive. In other words, what satisfied us yesterday will not be enough to keep us happy tomorrow. People praised Jobs last week by saying that he created products that people didn’t know they needed. As far as I can tell, that approach to doing business is what created the foreclosure crisis we’re in right now. How much is enough? Just a little bit more.
Lastly, Schaef argues that addictions keep us “unaware of what is going on inside of us.” Back in January I was alone in Thailand for several days and my guesthouse room had no TV or radio. I didn’t even have a novel to read. So, after dinner I came back to my room and realized I had nothing to do for the three hours until bedtime. Without something to distract and entertain me, I was bored out of my mind.
The next day, however, when I went back to my “solitary confinement,” my solitude allowed all of this emotional, spiritual “stuff” to come bubbling up to the surface of my consciousness and that forced me to begin dealing with some of it.
If any of this holds some truth, we might ask ourselves, “Am I in control of technology, or is technology in control of me?”
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.