From December 2011

How technology gets in the way

Technology is a great thing, providing so much we take for granted. Like having the world at our fingertips. But I’ve noticed of late how much it can get in the way of actually living, creating barriers between the people around us and the natural world.

We’ve digitized, monetized and otherwise ized up every aspect of life to the point that it’s becoming less and less real. Our Smartphones keep us connected 24/7 with anyone we want around the world other than those standing beside us. We can watch, publish, share, buy and search for most anything anytime. But technology is like a glass wall that prevents you from dipping your toes into freshly mowed grass or feeling a cool ocean breeze.

Part of my motivation behind the Twenty Bridges project is to reach out into the world. To experience it a bit slower, more methodically. Choosing to shoot it on old-fashioned film is highly inefficient. I have to buy the film, shoot it, drop it off for processing and wait. Then take the frames I want to another place to have them scanned so I can work with them – in the digital world. You’d think it’d be so much easier to start digital and skip all that time and running around. Not to mention money. Yes, it’s completely unproductive, inefficient and expensive. It’s why I launched the Kickstarter Campaign to help fund it.

But it makes me think. I cannot afford to shoot with reckless abandon. I have to think more about the composition and lighting. To choose my vantage points with care rather than shooting 20 different angles. No, I must choose, shoot, then wait. Since I cannot see the image on the spot, I have to trust my instincts and experience that I captured my vision for the shot. But I won’t know until long after the light’s faded and I’ve returned to the city. Too late to correct. Loading film after every 12 frames means I might miss a shot. Once again I have to pause, package up the last role and load another. Advancing it to the first frame to start again.

With digital I could see instantly whether I got the shot or not. Much more efficient. Using film is a different way of working. One that has forced me to think more. To trust and anticipate. Gratification comes later. And so does the delight seeing the rewards of my effort.

More important, though is what happens in your head.

That’s where technology gets in the way. Because it’s fast and immediate we don’t have to think much about what we’re doing. We don’t have to make careful choices. We can pull the quality out of the volume, in theory. A slower, methodical process stimulates the brain. It alters the creative process. Works the same in other pursuits as well.

Writing something down makes it stick in your brain. Helps you connect the dots better. Puts you more in touch with your thoughts. It, too, is slower. You can also see how your writing changes with your thinking. Are they letters madly scribbled down in a burst of creative stream of consciousness? Or are they hard fought words you pulled from the deep crevaces of your brain to tell your story? While searching on Google provides instant answers – the most popular, most superficial for the most part – searching through a library opens the opportunity to discover work you otherwise wouldn’t. It introduces serendipity in the process. New thoughts. New connections.

In the digital world, words are plentiful cheap and free.

costs so little so again, we can be reckless with them. But what’s the end result? The recipient recognizes whether these are carefully reasoned thoughts or just a careless message delivered in haste. And they react accordingly. It’s about the craft. And finding the very human connection that enriches our lives that technology gets in the way of.

Technology removes emotion from our communications. How often do you find drama or hurt feelings as a result of a hashtag conversation or hastily written email? You miss 90% of the communication this way. There’s no substitute that I know of for face to face communication.

After a week of work with technology, I enjoy working in the garden or even doing a little manual labor like building a stone wall. Puts me in touch with a different type of energy. And whether writing or retouching a photo, I’m still touching the same keyboard and mouse. Removed from the process.

Our most creative, meaningful work comes when we think a little slower. That phone that you constantly check every time it buzzes with a new message prevents you from making deeper connections. You spend your time on the surface rather than exploring the why that matters. Innovating. We’re not designed to multitask. Although some people have mastered the art, what really happens is your brain switches on and off each task, losing focus.

We can never go backwards. And I don’t think we’d want that. Technology isn’t going to stop moving forward. We’ve tasted the nectar and it’s addictively cool. So far Moore’s law continues to hold true. But at what point do we have too much? How much can people absorb?

My hope is that you will think about how you interact with your technology. Recognize how it influences the choices you make and how you work. Then try doing things without it. By increasing your awareness of how technology can get in the way of really experiencing the life in front of you, you’ll be better prepared to control it. Before it controls you.

This post was inspired by Margie Clayman and Mack Collier who ignited thoughts I’ve been thinking about technology – something I’ll explore more here in the future.