The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I'm sure I'm the only human to say that, ever. (C'mon, you know you have your moments, too.)

Last Wednesday, after much urging from my husband, I finally called Dell Customer Service to deal with what I hoped with be a quick solution for a seemingly minor issue. My PC was purchased in 2014, but since early on there had been some problems with the way it booted up. I had hoped that upgrading to Windows 10 last year and replacing a failing hard drive would fix the issue, but neither one did. I had been able to work around it, but the fact remained that there was still a problem, and I would rather have it dealt with--preferably before my extended warranty ran out.

So, I called Dell. Four hours later, Pooja (my customer service rep) and I had moved way past "quick solution", and she was asking if my information was backed up so that we could reformat the hard drive and start from scratch.

There are a several phrases that are in my "bottom ten" when it comes to tech. "Reformat" is in the lowest five, right above "virus", "system failure" and "lost all data." (Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with extreme versions of these other technological trials for many years.)

So, for the last week, I have been dealing with all the steps required when one starts from scratch. Thankfully, technology has advanced sufficiently that this isn't the major hardship it once was, but (aside from the backup and restoration of data) programs must still be re-installed, and updates downloaded over internet speeds that equate to modern dial-up (seriously, I had to reschedule my call with Pooja yesterday because we couldn't. do. anything,) and it all becomes one major pain in the backside.

I'd say this was a "first world problem", but every representative I spoke to was located in my favourite Indian city, Bangalore. :-)

However, it is definitely a problem that my grandparents never had to deal with (with the possible exception of one very tech-savvy step-Grandma, who uses social media and her laptop like she was born to it).

And, if and when the apocalypse comes, it's a problem that will suddenly cease to exist. Because who cares if your computer has a boot-up issue when there isn't electricity to power it up in the first place?

What a work bee won't look like after the apocalypse.

On Monday, I was a parent supervisor for Noah's class field trip to our local museum. They currently have a display about the boreal forest, and the students got to examine all kinds of trees, animals, insects, and more that populate the vast stretches of boreal forest that surround us in northern Alberta.

I found myself examining the displays of hand tools used by this region's settlers with great interest--tools that would have been common items in a pioneer's wagon, or even on the average farm as recently as a hundred years ago. There were ranges of hand saws, planers, a flail for grain harvesting, axes and other simple, hand-held tools. Nothing as complicated as a computer. All of them a form of technology designed to improve quality of life. Many of them would not have been made by the end user, but purchased.

As I carefully read through all the neatly-typed labels next to the tools, I mused about how even these modest forms of technology would not be essential to survival. Most of them wouldn't, anyway. However, every little addition to a home-owner's or artisan's tool kit would enable a more beautiful or easily-made result, allowing them to spend less time on the daily business of surviving and more on luxuries like the arts.

There were several tools I didn't recognize. Some I had seen, but didn't know what they were called or used for. And it made me wonder, in this modern information age, how much knowledge has been lost?

Technology allows me to use devices I don’t understand and cannot repair on my own to accomplish more in a single day without servants than my ancestors could do in a week with, but only as long as the technologies that enable those devices (and the devices themselves) continue to function as they are meant to.

When I wanted to learn how to care for chickens, I consulted both my farm-raised parents, and mostly got answers of "I don't really remember." So I garnered most of my information from the internet. Same with gardening. When such rudimentary internet service as we have dies completely (as happens every so often, in bad weather and such-like), I feel like my security blanket has disappeared. Seriously, sometimes I break out in a cold sweat. While I know, in my heart of hearts, that these technologies aren't necessary for my survival, I also know that I am currently ill-equipped to live without them.

Which brings me to the central question of this post--with all of our knowledge, I wonder if we have lost the basic skills required for survival in the real world? Does technology create greater simplicity, or destroy it?

I don't think I'm the only one with this primal fear. Look at the abundance of post-apocalyptic stories, or the reality shows like "Survivor" that take modern humans and put them in situations they are barely equipped to deal with because our technology has so coddled us in our daily existence. Movies like The Hunger Games explore the idea of being forced to survive in the most extreme of circumstances, where, rather than acting as a buffer, technology is used to make the stakes higher than nature would create. These stories also show how even small amounts of technological advancement can save your life--when you're dying of thirst in a forest, a small, simple tool like a tree tap can mean the difference between life and death.

Am I saying we should turn our backs on technology in favour of living off the land? No way. I love having the collective knowledge of humanity at my fingertips, and the ability to connect with friends and family around the globe at the touch of a few keys. I love my dishwasher and my van and my lawn mower. I absolutely think indoor plumbing and electricity were two of man's best inventions (right after the printing press, written language, wheel, and fire. And maybe a few more.)

But that love/hate relationship remains. Technology allows me to use devices I don't understand and cannot repair on my own to accomplish more in a single day without servants than my ancestors could do in a week with, but only as long as the technologies that enable those devices (and the devices themselves) continue to function as they are meant to. Let my PC contract a virus, or the internet go out, or the power go out, even for a few hours, and I am left wondering what my life would be like without them. How would I survive the winter? How would we feed our family? (Thank goodness I at least know how to knit... in the dark!)

It's left me wondering--how far would civilization actually devolve if we really were thrust into a post-apocalyptic society? With the knowledge we currently carry in our collective minds, would we be able to keep the world at the minimum status of "developing country?" Or would that require too many specialists (who might be dead) and too many transportation systems (which might have failed) for the raw materials required to support electronics, etc.?

Would we be back in the Industrial Revolution? The Renaissance? Or would we find ourselves thrust into a new Iron Age, with the wonders of what used to be only a memory, the relics of which are carefully preserved in museums?

Recently, Noah must have been enlightened about all the ways that we have laid waste to our planet in our relentless pursuit of ease, power, and luxury, because last week he was telling us about the many evil things that humans have done to the Earth.

"You're going to hear that a lot, Noah," I said. "'Humans are the problem.' Lots of people say it." I paused and looked him in the eye to make sure he was listening. "But when they say that, I want you to remember that humans are also the solution."

If we are smart enough to use our planet's resources to make the technologies that make our lives easier, I believe we are also smart enough to figure out how to protect those resources. Barring an earth-shattering catastrophe that basically wipes out life on earth, we will never truly be back in the Iron Age. I just hope that the next Age is one where we can love our tech without guilt or fear--where we can use it in such a way that we don't forget how to survive, and don't obliterate the planet we need to live on.

After listening to Noah go on a little longer about the environmental problems we are dealing with, I added something else.

"If this is something you are passionate about, Noah, you could be one of the humans that finds that solution. The world needs you."

He blinked at me as the enormity of the idea set in.

If we are going to find a way to use technology without using up our world, we really do need people who are passionate about it. And we need to help them in any way we can.

What do you think? If there was an apocalypse or other civilization-disrupting event, what level of advancement do you think our world would revert to? Would you be able to survive off the land with your current level of knowledge? Do you think modern technology has been enough of a blessing to justify its drawbacks? Do you see it differently from me--no drawbacks, or no blessings?

Do you wish you could throw away all your electronics and join an Amish community?

I'd love to hear your thoughts... It will give me something to keep me sane as I re-settle myself into my PC. :-)

Happy Wednesday, friends!