The Virtual Fence

The past several weeks have been spent learning about some pretty big ideas: progress, convenience, control, Luddism and Appropriate Technology to name several. The Slack and Wise primer has been our main source of information, along with a visit to Freegeek and a viewing of some short movies made by film students. We have also touched upon similar topics in several classes such as English, Computer Sciences and Communications. The gist of the course readings and activities so far, from my perspective, is that our use of technology changes the way we think and act, and the effects of these changes can positive and negative, planned and unexpected, beneficial and destructive.

It is interesting to study people’s responses to these ideas, from a complete embrace of technology and the society it helps maintain, to a fear that we are moving in a direction that hinders autonomy, negates community and destroys our relationship with nature. Technology changes the definition of “community” altogether, from being a group that shares geography, history and interests to one based simply on interests and ideas.

I think the major change that technology has on communities is that it lets us control the way we communicate; it allows us do it on our own terms. The cell phone is a great example of this. I can answer a call, not answer, hang up, lie and say I have to go, make a call, send a text message, not read a text message, read a text message later when I am not driving, etc. These options are not available in face-to-face situations. Psychologically I think this is not just convenient but empowering. It makes me think too of that Robert Frost saying, “Good fences make great neighbours”. I think that technology could be considered a virtual fence between the user and the world, with the user having the ability to close or open the gate at will.

Maybe this feeling of empowerment we get from technology is false. Maybe it is actually more of an idea of empowerment that has been marketed to us in terms of progress, convenience and profit. I’m sure this is true to some degree, but I also chose to believe that technology can also be a reflection of our communal sense of whimsy, imagination and desire. It allows us to explore, share and help people. Yes it can be used for negative purposes, but that has less to do with technology itself and more to do with human nature. I guess when humanity has perfected itself we will then have our first perfect technology. Thank god we have television while we wait.


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