May 5, 2014
Are the incredible opportunities afforded us through information technology a blessing or a curse? For me they are both. I love it when I can gain some degree of mastery over one technique. I have come to recognize the power and convenience my computer and cell phone give me. In the best of all worlds, information technology is a miraculous avenue to new information, sharing news with family, and informing others of one’s business and social concerns. On a good day, information technology is my friend!
Computers now help us read what we used to find in newspapers, go to movies, play games alone or with others, find a husband or wife, write an article or term paper, find a job, get a college degree, provide information to our physicians, physicians associates and nurse practitioners and receive replies from them, find the cheapest hotel in a city a thousand miles away, and make plane reservations. Add to this a hundred other truly marvelous applications of information technologies and one sees why this way of living our lives is here to stay for most if not almost all of us.
But each new miraculous step forward can be accompanied by complexities, costs or risks. Every day is not a good day when it comes to computers, cell phones, electronic books, ways of seeing thousands of movies and listening to thousands of songs. For one thing there is a ton of misinformation floating around out there and one has to be careful about taking some fascinating new information too seriously before checking out its authenticity.
When it comes to information technologies each new “Yes!” may be balanced off by another “Oh no!”
After an extraordinarily frustrating three hours with a new computer, my wife, Maggie, said: “I wish I lived a hundred years ago.” To this her friend Martha Ezzard replied: “Computers definitely can ruin your day.” Both Martha and Maggie are smart and get much from computers, but their conversation underscores the challenges computers pose for all of us.
At Saint James Episcopal Church several weeks ago, Father Herb Leslie referred to an article on Lenten resolutions he had read about. What stood out to him was that 31% of people said their resolution was to give up all information technologies for 40 days and 40 nights. Now there’s a resolution that is bound to fail. We are all firmly in the grip of our personal computer, our fancy cell phones, and frustrating automated answering services that separate us from live human beings. Clark Howard calls that last one “customer no service.”
Father Leslie told a marvelous story later in his sermon:
The blind father of a second string football player at Columbia University died. The coach told him told him he could take off for as long as was necessary for him to get his feet back on the ground. He returned to practice immediately saying he returned to play on Saturday. The coach let him receive the opening kickoff. He returned it to the opponents’ 5 yard line, stayed in the game, and scored 3 touchdowns. What happened the coach asked him. “My father died. That was the first game he ever saw me play in.”
Guess where Father Leslie learned of that story.
Robert A. Hatcher M.D., M.P.H.
Emeritus Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine