Unplugged: Our love affair with tech toys is making us crazy

Each day we take a deep breath and plunge headlong into the technological abyss, hoping that most of our fellows will use its powers for good rather than evil.


SANTA CRUZ, February 18, 2015 — In the summer of 2007, Apple launched the iPhone. At the time, telephone handsets were blocky, insipid devices capable of only the most rudimentary tasks beyond making and receiving calls.

The public response to Apple’s initial iPhone announcement was decidedly tepid, while the tech world was equally dubious. No fixed keyboard? What was Apple thinking? Only a few years later, the iPhone stands as a cultural signpost and every other smartphone company is scrambling to copy it.

In 2010, Apple again launched a product nobody thought they would need, the iPad. Once again, the device became ubiquitous, an indispensable part of society’s tech gadget trifecta (phone, tablet, computer).

These devices do more than anyone could have imagined just a couple of decades ago. They connect us as never before, and empower us to create with powerfully accessible software and functional interfaces.

Gone are the days of computer geeks locked away in their basements, toiling over a dizzying sprawl of wires and semiconductors. Today’s devices are light, sexy, and incredibly user-friendly. We love them, we cannot imagine life without them, and they are making us all insane.

To be fair, those who have been alive long enough to remember day to day life before all these toys will be less enthralled or addicted then millennials who have grown up squarely ensconced in this maelstrom of technology. There was a time when news came from television and newspapers, while personal contact was established through face to face conversation, the telephone, and handwritten letters.

Today, people not only can consume all the information they want without talking to a soul or turning on their TV; they are able to pick through a carefully curated news feed which reinforces their own dogmatic world view. All forms of human interaction, from job searches to romance, are now filtered through some form of social networking algorithm.

Most people would agree that all of this technology and information literally at our fingertips makes the world a better place. We can extend our reach, interact with people from all over the planet, educate ourselves without limits, and participate meaningfully in the lives of those we care about who happen to live far away from us.

Detractors will bemoan the lack of human interaction, of getting out and relating to real people. Visit any mall or busy downtown street and you will see throngs of people in close proximity, heads buried in their phones as they brush past each other without a word. It seems as though the expanded possibilities for virtual human contact have superseded our ability to acknowledge those directly in front of us.

Visit a cafe and see several friends sitting around a table, faces aglow with the backlight of one device or another. Nobody is speaking or relating to each other in any way. They are islands, shut off from their surroundings, immersed in a myopic world of curated reality.

In many ways, this rapacious advance of technology is like a bloated snowball careening down a steep hill. Its speed is both wondrous and terrifying, a runaway train of dizzying possibilities.

Each day we take a deep breath and plunge headlong into the technological abyss, hoping that most of our fellows will use its powers for good rather than evil. We cautiously scan the news only to be confronted with the unfortunate truth that many of us are incapable. The internet, and its myriad on ramps and outlets, allow us to highlight the worst aspects of our natures, to litter the web with libel, profanity, abuse, and animus, all without accountability, or fear of repercussion.

We have become a petty, fragile people, lobbing hateful grenades at each other from odious, dogmatic foxholes. Even now it is not uncommon to see people, when temporarily disconnected from their phones, nervously tapping their feet, bouncing a crossed leg, or tapping untethered fingers on whatever surface they find themselves upon. The need and custom of constant updates, for an uncapped flow of vacant data, leaves us in an eerily gaunt, traumatic state when our devices are taken away.

We must find a way to temper our rapid, technological advances with our innate humanity. We cannot forsake those we come in real contact with everyday for the spurious, online relationships we cultivate with guarded aplomb. We have to find ways to use the brilliant power of todays gadgets to enrich and broaden our lives without allowing them to utterly consume them.


Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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  • So well put, Russ. I do remember life before these devices became like another body part. I rely on them for work and I enjoy them, but I draw the line at seeing them in someone’s face when I’m having a meeting or meal with them. I’m doing my best to unplug unless I’m actively working, but it really is difficult even when you’re conscious of it.