Negotiating Technology

Amish settlements have become a cliché for refusing technology. Tens of thousands of people wear identical, plain, homemade clothing, cultivate their rich fields with horse-drawn machinery, and live in houses lacking that basic modern spirit called electricity. But the Amish do use such 20th-century consumer technologies as disposable diapers, in-line skates, and gas barbecue grills. Some might call this combination paradoxical, even contradictory. But it could also be called sophisticated, because the Amish have an elaborate system by which they evaluate the tools they use; their tentative, at times reluctant use of technology is more complex than a simple rejection or a whole-hearted embrace. What if modern Americans could possibly agree upon criteria for acceptance, as the Amish have? Might we find better ways to wield technological power, other than simply unleashing it and seeing what happens? What can we learn from a culture that habitually negotiates the rules for new tools? (via)

I often feel like a great contradiction; I have long been an advocate and avid user of technology (having been on every computer since the Commodore 64 & Apple ][) but at the same time have completely resisted so much of it – it took me years to get a cell phone. And although I’ve been online since 1988 and had a web page since 1995, I am really hesitant about spending lots of time reading other blogs and updating my own. I love connection and sharing information but still feel confused about Twitter and Facebook. I totally keep up to date on everything new media and tech because I both love and work in it but at the same time I read lots of books, garden and spend a great deal of time outdoors, disconnected.

Over the past two years I’ve had a really hard time trying to put all of this into words and accurately describe (or even catch up) to how I’m feeling about technology as more of it’s created and incorporated at crazy speeds. Because it’s not going away and really, I don’t want it to. It’s just trying to figure how to be a part of it instead of swept up in it.

With the addition of Twitter, RSS Feeds, and Facebook, I’ve found myself receiving the same bits of information several times over. For example, I used to just subscribe to a blogs feed and access their info that way. But if that person is on Twitter, they’ll also tweet about their new post and link to it. If they’re on Facebook, chances are their Twitter hits their Facebook profile and I’ll get an update there, too. LinkedIn now offers the same. So instead of getting one piece of information one way, I’m getting the same information 3 or 4 different ways which results in an overload.

But what happens if you then remove that person from your Twitter feed? Will they think you aren’t their friend? This has happened to me. People have equated my Twitter removal with a friend removal even though in real life I did a lot more and gave much more support than just clicking “follow” on Twitter. So once you incorporate technology, removing it becomes really hard because of social and sometime business consequences.

A lot of my work is in new media so if I’m not Twittering up a storm or talking about the same things as everyone else or Diggining’ every post, it can seem as though I have no idea about these things. The truth is, I do and almost always know about them from the beginning before main stream thanks to all my geek friends who build the stuff and I get to test it out. But there comes a point where I ask myself, in my personal life, do I need this? How much value does it have to me? How much value does it have to my readers? Am I overloading us both? Am being redundant? Am I just saying whats already said to several mediums just to stay relevant, but not even really being relevant?

Now lets add in the iPhone of which I have had for a couple of years. After my 4 year old more than basic cell phone died I decided to get an iPhone so I wouldn’t have to worry about upgrading for a long time and liked the idea of music/phone. But when people see mine, they think I’m insane. You only have three apps? they ask. Do you need helping knowing about apps? No, I’ll tell them. I’m actually up on a lot of apps, I know what’s out there, I know what’s being built it’s just that my needs don’t require them. I don’t want to be able to do everything all the time on my phone. It used to be if I didn’t have my computer with me, people understood not getting an email right away or me checking out their Flickr or their new MySpace page. But then laptops came to be and so vacationing got really hard. Now with the iPhone, every minute, every day, everywhere you can access every thing.

There’s no reason to miss an email, an update, a YouTube video, or everything you friend ate that day. In fact, I feel like all this technology and access has prevented us from doing more and instead made us monitor more. How much of your day is just catching up on what other people are (uselessly) doing? How much of your information intake is actually propelling you to a better life? How much is just a big time suck but you feel like you just have to keep up with your friends, comment on their status, read that popular blog post or contribute your own for fear of being irrelevant, seeming unhip or worse, out of touch.

I feel the need to reiterate that I love technology and am thankful for the web; it’s provided me a fantastic career and I’ve met the most amazing friends and counterparts because of it. There are so many amazing communities and sites out there from technology to health to home and travel that I have found more than useful, inspirational and just plain fun. But even though so much of my life is incorporated into new media and technology, I don’t want my life to be 100% about it. I don’t want to know that much about everyone or feel obligated to comment on every post or fear that not Digging will make me look stupid as will bailing out on this years SXSW. It’s so easy to get caught up in technology and make some things seem bigger and more important than they are instead of really thinking about each bit of technology’s use to each of us and finding whats really important to us as individuals and making all of that work.

Reading how the Amish use technology really struck a chord with me because I feel like I am constantly negotiating and choosing what to use and how it works for me. Yet I often feel like an outcast for doing so or worse, a really bad friend because I didn’t update as much as my counterparts or I didn’t acknowledge every single status update of every single friend.

I like the idea of being ‘sophisticated’ for choosing technology instead of a drone doing everything out of fear or greed. And I like the idea of really learning how to incorporate technology that I really do love and really think has great benefits into a world that still needs to have boundaries and breathing space and conversation instead of just giving personal updates.

I’d be curious to know how others navigate the technological waters; do you love getting several of the same updates? Do you feel pressured to comment on others status or follow their every move? Are you Blackberry free? Do you spend too much time surfing the web or do you have a great online/offline balance? Are you really connecting online? Has technology made your life better or harder to keep up with? Do you embrace every bit of technology and see the benefits personally/professionally in doing so or have you seen more benefits in being selective?

(Cross-posted on Girl at Play while totally seeing the irony!)

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