Technology: Friend or Foe?

Anna Dickens

So, you may be wondering why the subject of my blog today is slightly…off topic. Trust me: in a perfect world I’d be discussing the various perils and delights of LOTRO just like everyone else. But of course, the world isn’t perfect, and neither, to make a gross understatement, is technology.

As one of the hapless few Mac users in my English 115F class, I was fated to spend several hours in a dark room of Vanderbilt’s Information Technology Services building, having software installed that would outfit my Mac with all the goodies of Microsoft and thereby allow me to access LOTRO. I won’t bore you with details, but let’s just say the installation process was horribly painstaking, time-consuming, and frustrating.

And that, my friends, to make a long story short, is why I have yet to hone my gaming skills (or lack thereof) and quest through Middle Earth.

The bottom line is: sometimes, technology sucks.

Take Facebook, for example. My relationship with this website is love-hate, at best. To completely dismiss Facebook as frivolous and stupid would be hypocritical on my part; after all, I’m the girl who, every Sunday morning, dutifully posts a photo album documenting the weekend’s festivities. Although I usually scorn busybodies, I am ashamed to admit that I consider Facebook my primary informant for weekly gossip, utilizing it to see who’s-dating-who and who’s-doing-what and OMG-what-is-she-doing-in-that-picture??? I also owe it to Facebook for enabling me to handpick my current freshman-year roommate, a very agreeable arrangement that probably wouldn’t have transpired had I opted for the random roommate search. So yes, Facebook does offer an entertaining diversion, a fast and convenient way to network with friends, and a beneficial means of communication.

But then there are times when Facebook is the bane of my existence. Consider this scenario: 12:00 pm, Wednesday night. Slumped tiredly over the keyboard, Sugar-Free Red Bull by my side, I struggle to punch out the last few lines of an English paper. The computer mouse, as though possessed of its own will, keeps sneaking over to the Internet browser, drawn by the irresistible urge to log on Facebook and mindlessly click through people’s pictures. I shouldn’t, I think to myself. But at the same time…Oedipus can wait. I’ll only log on for five minutes. Five minutes turns to ten minutes, which turns to twenty…and before you know it, I’ve wasted the better part of an hour doing absolutely nothing. Let’s just say Facebook is not one for spawning productivity.

Another technology phenomenon that I regard with ambivalence is the Kindle. For voracious readers who devour a book a day, investing in one of these devices is sound and financially-incentive, to be sure. Personally, though, I’m too “old-school” to bring myself to purchase a Kindle. When it comes to reading, I am somewhat of a purist, much preferring to hold a real book in my hand rather than reading the text off of a screen. When reading Gone with the Wind, for example, I used my grandmother’s copy, leftover from when she was a young girl. I loved reading from this book because it had character—the yellowed, frayed pages that omitted a deep musky stench when you turned them; the dusty, weatherworn cover; the elegant old-fashioned print. A beautifully-crafted, antique book, in my opinion, lends itself to a much more nostalgic, emotional reading experience than an impersonal electronic device ever could.

Much of the magic of books, I think, is derived from the physical book itself, from its feel and smell and look. The same can be said of newspapers. I enjoy utilizing the internet for news updates as much as the next person, but the fact that print newspapers are increasingly becoming a dying breed is troubling to someone who values a tangible reading experience. To replace books and newspapers completely with technology would be a crime, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way condemning technology. Technology is an undeniably invaluable asset of our world; I couldn’t even begin to list the many ways in which it has enriched my life personally. As much as I hemmed and hawed about my little LOTRO mishap, I would much rather endure the occasional technology woes than forfeit my computer altogether (no more Facebook! Gasp!). But a certain point exists, I believe, at which our world can become too saturated in technology. Am I speaking of an ominous, bleak dystopia looming on the horizon, similar to the one Huxley portrayed in Brave New World? Of course not. But I do think that some elements of our existence are better left untouched by the mark of technology.