Always On – My relationship with technology

My relationship with technology has been comparable to Ross and Rachel from a certain nineties hit sitcom:  On again, off again.

I’ve been in the Information Technology industry for almost sixteen years.  It was a passion that grew like a weed inside of me since the day that my doctor told me that my eyesight was deteriorating and that I’d never realize my dream of being a Fighter Pilot.

Without giving away too much about my (alleged) age, I had one other interest in life as – my beautiful, shiny Windows 95 laptop with CD ROM and a whopping 64Mb of RAM.  It was my most treasured possession and I was constantly sat in front of it – either for homework purposes, or to research topics such as “Top 10 reasons I didn’t do my homework”.

My second most treasured possession was my mobile phone.  A large, black Ericsson GSM monstrosity with a very thin screen, green background and a pair of arrow keys for navigation.  Life was pretty sweet in those days and the advancements in technology were the most exciting things in my life.  Each year, I upgraded my phone to the latest model.  When I earned enough money from my part-time job in a Supermarket, I upgraded my Laptop.  I was “Mister Technology” in my high school, I could always be counted on to have the latest gadget.

It all seemed too perfect, as I imagined what life would be like almost twenty years into the future.  Surely, we would soon have phones so tiny, they could be implanted into our brains and controlled by our thoughts.  Our laptops would probably just be screens that would project a keyboard onto the nearest surface.  (The idea of touchscreen didn’t seem to occur to me, although the “keyboard projection” technology did become a short-lived reality)

My first job in the IT world after graduating college, was Junior IT Administrator for a large distribution company in the UK.  I still remember the day that my boss showed this new software named “Google Earth” to me for the first time and being blown away by how impressive it was.  Of course, using Google Earth, I could virtually jump to any place in the world, yet unsurprisingly, the first place I looked up was my own house.  Despite my fascination for what my house looked like to a bird, my passion for technology, gadgets and new software kept growing.

However as the years passed and I continued keeping up-to-date with the latest in tech trends, technology began to hit back at me.  Now, the whole world had a cell phone and it seemed anyone could call me day or night with stupid questions, to ask for favors or simply just “to chat”.  The sound of my ringtone caused an burning irritation inside of me each time I heard it.  I tried to remedy that by changing the ringtone on a regular basis, but this was only ever a temporary fix.  There is something about a ringing phone that is just too hard to ignore.

Before joining the ETTE team, I was a Project Manager for a multinational Communications Corporation.  In order to be good at my job, my company laptop and cell phone had to become my best friends and that is when the love-hate relationship truly began.  At first, it was all part of the job – keeping my phone charged and switched on 24/7 and taking my laptop home with me every night.  But it began to take its toll on me.  The constant ringing of my cell phone, day and night almost drove me to insanity.  One particular point of frustration was the people I call “Email Couriers” – Those that send you an email and then call you to tell you that they’ve sent you an email.

However in March 2015, I learned a very valuable lesson about Human Nature’s dependency and addiction to technology.  I had been charged with installing a Cell Phone Tower in a far corner of Bolivia in South America.  The area was a hot, swamp-filled jungle which was over 100 miles from the nearest sign of civilization.  Tucked away in this corner of the Amazon, was a Cattle Ranch and Christian Mission – An interesting, self-sufficient community that lived off the land and educated under-privileged children from the surrounding villages.  There was absolutely no communication with the rest of the world and the nearest medical facility was over three hours drive away.

The job I was there to do should have taken two days.  However, due to a long list of unfortunate set-backs, I spent a total of eight days working in 110 degree heat and 98% humidity.  What should have been a simple task turned into the thing of nightmares, since I had only a team of three guys and no extra resources or equipment.  After fighting off dehydration, heat stroke, giant mosquitos, crocodiles, army ants and Africanized bees, I emerged from the Amazon Rainforest with a new appreciation for technology and communications.

My phone didn’t ring in those eight days (Since we were there to install the cell phone service).  I’d used my laptop once for a few hours to align a satellite dish.  I didn’t realize what it was at first, but each day while I worked, I had that all too familiar feeling that something was missing – like I’d left home without my keys.  It bothered me like a splinter in my mind, trying to figure out what was missing and why I continually felt anxious about it.

I believe it was day four, when I realized this feeling was due to being completely cut off from the rest of the world.  I missed my friends.  I missed my home comforts and worst of all, I simply missed the liberty of being able to call someone and simply say “What’s up?!”.  Returning to civilization brought feelings of elation and relief.  Like my caffeine addiction, I needed my fix.

But outside of my own selfish “need” to see online photos of what my friends had been eating for lunch that week, I looked back on what I’d actually achieved in that jungle.

I’d brought communication to those who had never had it.  I’d brought technology to those who didn’t really need it.  I felt good that these people were no longer in the dark, but I felt bad that their simple, humble lives would never be the same.  The community spirit they’d lived and survived by for generations would slowly fade away and the people of the community would now be assimilated into regular society.  This is what they said they wanted and needed, but I don’t think they fully understood that this would change their lives forever and that there was no going back – you can’t un-ring the bell.

These people were not ignorant to the fact that there was a big, wide world outside of that jungle.  But they couldn’t comprehend just how big and how different it was.  For those of us who don’t live in the Amazon, we’ve slowly adapted to the evolution of technology and watched as phones progressed from a simple call/text device, to something that now causes us to feel naked when we leave home without it.  These “Amazonians” didn’t experience that natural evolution, they were just given the latest technology in it’s current form and a small part of me thinks that this might not be a good thing.  There was no room for gradual adaptation.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go back and visit that corner of the jungle twenty years from now to study the effect modern technology has had on the lives of the people there.  Frankly, despite my love for adventure, there is absolutely no way I’d ever return to that giant/mutant mosquito-infested place again, but if I did, I think my first question about their new technology would be “Do you hate it yet?”

For all the frustrations and headaches our “always online” lives may bring us, the geek that lives inside of me can’t live without the cell phone, internet, social media and the inappropriate Whatsapp messages my friends send me on a daily basis.  This technology that supposedly makes our lives “easier” is something we all take for granted, and yet it begs the question:  “Does it really solve our problems, or simply create new ones?”  I know I’m not alone when I say that Facebook has been the cause of many relationship problems – all because the wrong person clicked “Like” on my timeline.  Our behavior and approach to relationships and friendships is now being greatly influenced by social networks and the way we interact with each other is evolving with our new technology.  Now that I live outside of the UK, even my parents’ way of wishing me a happy birthday is to post it on my Facebook timeline.

Another question I find myself asking is “Where do we draw the line?”.  The Bolivian Government made a promise to its country – “Communication for all” and the people rejoiced.  But is the Government asking its people what they want, or is it telling them what they want?  Is it really necessary to provide GSM and 3G technology to an Amazonian Tribe so that they can call their friend who lives three mud-huts down and ask him if he’s still up for hunting later?  My personal opinion is let them be, I happen to be a firm believer that ignorance really can be bliss.

Whether you love it or hate it, we are all aware that technology is now a fully integrated part of our lives and it’s difficult to imagine life without it.  The evolution of technology, the advancement in research into AI and other breakthroughs continues to intrigue me each day.  However, I try not to be a slave to it.  There are often times when I like to unplug and get away from it all.

When all is said and done, I still love technology and I don’t want to imagine life without it.  With family and friends living thousands of miles from me, technology helps me feel connected to them.  My position at ETTE (An IT company, no less) is one of the most interesting and fulfilling I’ve ever had and I’d be lost without my cell phone, laptop and Xbox.  However, that trip to the jungle helped me better understand how, if we’re not careful, we can become slaves to our devices and that’s not something I want to be.

Although I’m most definitely a technology lover and always will be, sometimes it’s nice to see the world through my own eyes instead of Google’s.

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