For many of you people younger than me, it seems technology has just always been a part of life. From your earliest memories, you have been able to watch cable TV, play movies on-demand with your DVDs or play video games with a wide range of game options while relaxing in the air conditioning. When you’re hungry, you just pull something out of the refrigerator and pop it in the microwave. When you want to know something, you just look it up on the internet. Growing up in the computer age has provided me with a unique perspective on just how technology has taken over our lives. When I first started school, computers weren’t that big a deal, but now they’re almost necessary for everyday life. It is not unusual to hear someone crying about the loss of their computer, or the absence of their computer, as if there had been a death in the family because we have all become so dependent on it. For me, computers are needed to keep up with my personal life and my academic life and have changed the way I do everything.
In my personal life, computers have given me access to friends and relatives I probably wouldn’t have had much contact with otherwise. Thanks to the instant access of internet services, email and instant messaging systems, I am able to keep in touch with friends that have moved long distances away as if they still lived on the other side of town. With instant messaging boards, we can talk through life’s big issues without ever stepping foot outside our door and we can do it in a more private way than even talking on the phone since no one ‘overhears’ our conversation unless we invite them into the group. I feel this has provided me with much more intimate friendships than I had before, but that could also be a result of growing older. In addition to being able to instant message friends from far away, I can set up my own discussion board site and share life events with anyone who cares to visit. When I’m not available on instant messaging, my friends and relatives can still leave me messages on my discussion board even if my email address changes 15 times in a semester.
Academically, I think computers have helped as well. I’ve always considered myself a somewhat average student, but computers help me keep things organized so that assignments are completed on time and they help me when I have to try to finish things at the last minute, when all the stores and libraries are normally closed. While I am now able to procrastinate a little longer than I used to, I’m also not as limited in trying to find information as I would be without computers and the internet. I am able to do a lot of my research online, using search engines and databases to find the information I need even if it’s at 2 o’clock in the morning. My tendency to always procrastinate until the last minute means that I have had to get pretty good at learning how search engines work to find the terms I type in, but I’ve always learned new technology on a kind of trial and error system anyway, so that was nothing new. Usually, the new gadgets and things coming out only serve to help me accomplish more once I’ve learned them, but the learning curve can sometimes be pretty long, too. I’ve noticed even teachers are turning to technology to help teach in the classroom. The use of monitors and computer graphics in lectures is a big improvement over the old transparent overlays and boring hand-drawn illustrations we used to see. “What are overlays and hand-drawn illustrations?” you ask. I will tell you, they are what PowerPoint presentations used to look like without the possibility of sound or animation. I think that helps a lot because I don’t get bored with the lectures as quickly when there are moving full-color images on the screen.
All this dependency on technology hasn’t been all good though. While I am able to keep myself better organized and am more likely to turn in my papers on time now that I have unlimited access to information 24/7, sometimes the information isn’t very reliable or the computer crashes and I have very few survival skills left without it. When I was younger, I knew just where to find anything I was looking for in the library and now I have to remind myself how to get there when I need to go. I have developed the habit of doing things at the very last possible moment, which doesn’t help either, especially when problems come up. At the same time, my conversations with my friends, typed quickly into the instant messaging software, tend to be full of nonsense syllables and consonants that have evolved into a pseudo-language of its own. A typical conversation might look like this:
Just in case any of you are not fully aware of chat shorthand, this conversation can be translated as: “I have a question.” “One to one?” “Yes.” “What’s up?” “Are we going to have to go through this again?” “In my own opinion, it’s no big deal.” “OK.” This kind of writing has reduced my spelling abilities and has not improved my typing skills either. Thanks to the way information are presented on the internet, I am also becoming a very impatient reader. I expect information to be fed to me in short little chunks and easy to identify bullet points. I suspect I’m starting to lose a lot of the detail involved in the information I’m seeking, but I don’t usually take the time to go find out more.
So, even though computers have added tremendous value to my life, both personally and academically, I can also see where they have brought about a reduction in the quality of the things I do. My best friend now is no longer someone I can go hang out with at the mall with because she lives halfway around the world, but we talk every day about everything. My circle of friends has expanded, but my actual contact with them has decreased significantly. Likewise, my ability to complete my schoolwork on time and correctly has increased with better organizational skills and easier access to information, but the information available is not of the same quality as what I used to find in the library. Even though I recognize this, I still do not make the extra effort to go to the library because the internet is faster, closer, and available all night, which allows me to go out with my friends in the evening instead of doing homework. While my reading and writings skills have probably decreased as a result of my experiences online, I think I am also more likely to lookup an insignificant piece of information I’m curious about. In the end, technology seems to be a two-edged sword, on the one hand it has many benefits, but those benefits come with a price tag. I don’t know if I can even say it’s better with or without computers, it’s just different.