This has been rumbling around in the back of my mind bugging me for the past few weeks; so, I decided to blog about it.
Those who know me well know that for the past 30 years I have been a huge advocate for embracing technology. Of late however, I’ve been seriously rethinking my participation on the technology cheerleading squad. Was I that wrong? For you to understand how my thinking has changed and why, I want to briefly share how I initially became a technology enthusiast, even an evangelist of sorts.
Back in the Day
I started taking piano lessons in the second grade. Actually, the piano took me. I loved it, found it fun, and found it very easy. By the time I was in seventh grade I had begun writing and arranging my own music, performing before thousands of people just about every week. Music became a deeply expressive part of my little life force, part of me as a person: relating and sharing how I perceived my world, beauty, and even myself. As with most teens, music was like oxygen; but for me, I had to create it to stay alive.
After 2 college degrees (in music) and while working on my 3rd, I decided to purchase a computer. Buying a computer was a huge decision because the machine cost almost $7,000, a lot of money 3 decades ago, and I bought it for one reason: to create my dissertation. That singular purpose, technology as a tool to more easily create something truly significant that didn’t exist before, has always been, for me anyway, the initially compelling attraction of technology.
Then MIDI (the music instrument digital interface) became available and my life would never be the same. I could connect my new MIDI keyboard to my computer, play the keyboard, and the notes would appear on the screen. The computer could play them back; I could edit them; I could print the music. I was in heaven because I could create and share beauty so much easier and faster because of technology. This was unprecedented. This was transformative.
As technology advanced, I created recording projects, performance tracks and the like for live performance. If I could cut, copy, paste, and edit words and music, why couldn’t I do that with photos and video? So, I started dabbling with manipulating photos. In the 1990’s I began playing with creating video on the computer, but the technology just wasn’t powerful enough to make that really possible until the dawn of the 21st century with the advent of faster computers, larger hard drives, faster connectivity between devices, iMovie, and the DV compression format.
Technology has been a fascinating adventure in creative self expression, providing amazing amplification of me as a person: the creation of clarity of thought (word processing), the creation and refinement of musical beauty (MIDI, synthesis, sampling, sequencing, and digital recording), and the creation and enhancement of visual story telling (photography and videography). As more and more people purchased computers, and as the internet connected them all, the next logical step was sharing. Shortly after the beginning of the 21st century I started timtyson.us, my personal blog, further extending myself by sharing my self-expressions.
Education & Beauty
An educator by chosen profession, a creative by birth, and a spiritual being by awareness, I thought school should be a place where students and teachers created and shared factual knowledge, practiced critical thinking, refined problem solving around real world issues, and made a positive contribution to community: made the world a better place because of our sharing ourselves–our interconnectedness to others, to beauty, and to place and time. The gift of education was the recognition, appreciation, and fashioning of beauty in all of the many forms it takes in this world. Education is about the recognition of and creation of beauty centered around our shared human experience.
Once we experience beauty, have a firsthand encounter with that which is beautiful, we are forever changed. For when we are seduced by that which is beautiful in people, in place, in complexity, in thought and expression, we jealously protect and nurture it both consciously and subconsciously. We are willing to extend and exert ourselves to perpetuate, nurture, and understand beauty on a deeper level. We are willing to invest ourselves and our resources in it. Boredom vanishes as our lives are consumed with deeper meaning and purpose: studying the nuances of the beautiful, sharing the beautiful with others, nurturing and extending that which is beautiful.
When I hear children and adults say they are bored, I know they just need a firsthand encounter with beauty, for such life experiences further amplify our sense of being and wholeness.
But for all of the power technology affords us to create and share beauty, it, like any tool, limits us as well. We quickly forget that our tools also limit what we can do, which is why we constantly fashion new tools. We need an open and ongoing conversation about how technology limits us, holds us back from fully participating in life, in place, and meaningfulness. We so desperately need this conversation precisely because technology is such an extraordinarily powerful tool that easily and simultaneously blinds us to the extraordinary limitations it places on us.
A simple example: my phone (technology) is, among many things, also my GPS. It gets me from point A to point B when I am in an unfamiliar location. But this is precisely its limitation: it treats place as location data points, and, unless I am carefully and more deeply aware, I completely miss and utterly lose my sense of being, of person in place–my sense of journey–the beauty of moving through and experiencing place, actual, real place, in real time.
We often miss so much between data point A and data point B. We are simply waiting to hear “You have arrived at your destination…” Everything between data point A and data point B is superfluous, doesn’t conform to our pre-defined objective. Everything between start and finish easily, perhaps inevitably, becomes a nuisance, an irritation that must be endured, a source of boredom. The beauty that certainly exists between data point A and data point B is obscured and made irrelevant. Meaningfulness and creativity are often the unexpected and unanticipated that have little direct correlation with our present objectives.
Beauty is vastly more than a collection of data points. Sure, we can precisely define every single pixel in a beautiful image as a very precise data point. In an instant we can send that collection of data points from one side of the planet to the other side of the planet to share that photo, but beauty is much more than a collection of data points. As beautiful as a picture may be, it is not the place. Beauty impacts, expresses, and enriches our sense of person and being. Data points do not. Data points miss everything in between the data points, and so much exists between any two data points: their invisible interconnectedness, their interplay, their nuance, their subtle, their unstated, their misunderstood, even the emotion through which they are perceived.
I am concerned that, perhaps in large measure because of technology, people, human beings, human souls are beginning to be thought of as merely a collection of data points who interact with other data points. In fact, an individual’s data point self is now of little importance because technology can so easily aggregate enormous sets of data points for trend analysis. So, my data points are only as relevant as the set of data points to which they relate. My data points aggregate with others to define point of purchase decisions, profit margins, loss, cost factors, economic variables to be massaged for trend analysis and competitive advantage.
To boil it down to what worries me: technology is diminishing “person,” diluting “human being.” What each of us senses matters. How each of us feels matters. “I am an automated system. You can speak complete sentences to me. How may I help you today? You can press ‘1’ or say…” This is infuriating. I am being reduced to “communicating” with a computer? What happened to the person who once answered this call? What became of that person’s hopes, their retirement, their sense of person?
As a person, I’m certainly feeling “reduced,” not amplified by this unpleasant and increasingly pervasive encounter with efficient and cost effective (read “less human”) technology. I can think of so many other examples as to be disheartened by the overwhelming inertia of what feels like an inevitably impersonal and disconnected “networked” future of “smart” objects and machines.
In short, I want my human wholeness and the human wholeness of others to be respected, amplified, shared, and enriched by technology, not reduced to some lowest common, more cost effective denominator or even replaced by it. I want more present and less virtual. I want more individual and less aggregate. I want more of that invisible and un-captured that abounds between the data points. As I change and grow I want that essential human characteristic of “forgetfulness” not instantly accessible perpetual data sets. I want privacy not invisible pervasive and invasive surveillance (read “data point aggregation”). I want more human being.
More Humanity. Less Technology.