The Future Is Now

I have been MIA because I’ve been recuperating from a serious illness. My time at home has given me much time for reflection. My problems started with a recurrence of an illness from 27 years ago, and the difference in my constrained world startles me. Although confined to my home, the world is still at my fingertips. I maintained contact with family and friends, even from my hospital room, through emails on my tablet and texts on my smartphone. There was no additional charge for long distance calls. I was on two different floors in five different rooms during my eight-day stay, yet I remained totally accessible because of my smartphone. When I ran out of books to read, digital downloads from the library refreshed my supply on both my Kindle and my tablet. My caregivers recorded every detail on laptops and scanned my hospital bracelet to coordinate the information. Free high-resolution large-screen television offered nearly infinite choices for entertainment, including calming images and music. My return home offered me whole house DVR, Netflix and Amazon Prime entertainment. I could surrender my brain to distraction at the flip of a channel. What a change in less than three decades!

Twenty-seven years ago my husband made frequent trips to Blockbuster’s [remember them?] to rent movies, and he didn’t have a mobile phone to let me participate in choosing them. He went to the library and guessed at choices there, too, and I struggled to read hardcover books at night in bed without disturbing him. Expense limited long distance phone calls, and the days dragged. Technology allowed this recent recuperation to pass far more quickly and easily.

I found myself thinking about Ray Bradbury, my favorite science fiction writer, who feared technology and its ability to dehumanize us. I’d loved teaching Fahrenheit 451, challenging my students to consider the role of technology in their lives. We’d talk about the way the wife of Montag, the protagonist, responds to his request that she turn “the parlour” [the three screens of media] off so he could connect with her. She resists, replying, “That’s my family.” The thoughtful reading of books as a proliferation of culture gets replaced by mindless entertainment and increasing isolation. Frighteningly, media becomes a source of oppression, all too real an issue in today’s world. Bradbury repeatedly warns us about technology. Time magazine quotes him: “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.” (August 17, 2010). To the Huffington Post he says, “There is no future for e-books, because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.” Written in 1953, Fahrenheit 451’s prescience is chilling.

Bradbury is not alone in his concerns about the impact of technology. Einstein claimed, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Daniel J. Boorstein warns, “Technology is so much fun but we can drown in our technology. The fog of information can drive out knowledge.” According to Max Frisch, “Technology is a way of organizing the universe so that man doesn’t have to experience it.” From Omar Bradley: “If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” Chilling warnings from fine minds…

But I like John Naisbitt’s view: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” I’m grateful for the ways technology improved my medical care and eased the boredom of my recuperation. As a teacher I loved the opportunities technology offered me to transform teaching and learning, even when those changes were off-putting, inconvenient, or seemingly unmanageable. Benjamin Disraeli asserted, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Technology will continue to transform our world. The world that Bradbury envisioned is very like the world in which we live today, and continued transformation remains inevitable. It is up to us to harness those changes, to benefit where we can, to work to limit harm where we can.

Drafting this blog on my computer, seeking appropriate images on the internet, preparing to upload the blog digitally to a cloud where my readers can see it – these are changes I embrace.