Artificial Needs of Technology

Most of the time I listen to Adam Gopnik in the Point of View podcast but I could not resist re-reading his recent piece for Point of View: Why I don’t tweet. Naturally I was interested as a researcher and an avid twitterer. It had to be something more than a “meh” or the even more annoying argument of its being pointless. And Gopnik didn’t let me down:

…while I merely like my computer, I love my smartphone. I clutch my phone tight to myself, I hold it in my hand like a talisman – a feeling of panic overcomes me when in a strange city I find I have mislaid it, or that I forgot to bring its charger. But though it has altered the shape of my days and hours, has it really altered the life those days add up to and achieve?

He goes on to list the needs that were fulfilled prior to the technology that are now filled with the technology. He is not a luddite but he recognizes a very important aspect of our love for all things new and shiny:

Like so much modern media technology, it creates a dependency without ever actually addressing a need.

mail overload

Surrounded by the devices we love and enjoy and become dependent upon the question is do they really address a need? They change our lives and we create needs that only they can fill but the real need was maybe an artificial one to begin with?

Take my e-book reader. It’s stuffed to the gills (?) with more books than I will ever read. Wonderful. But did when was the last time I had nothing to read? On the other hand it changes the way in which I read. With digital books I am more prone to be bored unless I am captivated immediately. It’s easy to be bored because I already have the next book right there. It doesn’t actually address a need, but it changes behavior and creates needs.

It’s not about denying the usefulness, but it is about understanding what the technology does to us.

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