Technology’s two-edged sword

Technology certainly has given the world many wonderfully positive things. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to write this column without Microsoft Word, or to do the research for it without Google and the Internet. And I wouldn’t be able to communicate with a large circle of friends scattered all over the world.

Another example, like many of you, I have been stranded in a disabled car and my cell phone was a godsend. What did we do without cell phones? Flag down a passing motorist? Or leave the disabled car and walk miles to a phone booth? Hopefully, we had the correct change. And when is the last time we actually saw a phone booth? It has gone the way of the milkman.

As C.P. Snow, the British novelist, warned us, “Technology is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”

The genius Albert Einstein also cautioned us, “I fear the day when technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

Sometimes I think the day Einstein feared has already arrived. Technology has lightened our workloads, but has it made us better human beings? More sensitive and compassionate? Happier? Wiser?

I really don’t think so. Were you ever having a meal with friends and over veal parmesan and chablis one of your friends compulsively was checking her i-Phone and answering it? Is that sensitive or just rude? What in God’s name is so important that it can’t wait until after the cannoli and coffee? Real emergencies are rare.

And then there are robots. Sure, they lighten our work; they can even beat us in chess and drive our cars, but will they make us lazier and less attentive? As robots become more human-like, are we becoming less human?

Listen to Einstein again, “Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it.”

And then there is privacy. Programs on the Internet track our every move, our every purchase, our every Google search. It knows what books we buy, how old we are, and whether we ever watched porn. That’s a high price to pay for all the wonderful things the Internet does for us.

Finally, our health: My own heart has been beating for 82 years. It would have stopped long ago without modern surgery, medications – and a pacemaker. There are side effects to these medications, but it is a small price to pay for longer life.

In conclusion, maybe America’s most prolific author, Isaac Asimov, said it best, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” That wisdom is essential to use technology sensibly in order to make us better, more sensitive human beings.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His columns once appeared more regularly in the OBSERVER. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of his previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website