Larry Banman: Ultimate responsibility still rests with the individual
Without a Doubt
Has the Internet created a more informed society or is it a crutch that has diminished our critical thinking skills?
This argument is often split along generational lines. Those of us who grew up before the computer became an indispensable part of our society often long for the days when communication was more face-to-face, when it seemed like you had to exercise your mind more and were less dependent upon electronic devices. Those who grew up in more recent times point to the easy access to vast amounts of knowledge, the speed at which communication can take place and the incredible potential of those electronic devices.
Years ago, I read a story in Reader’s Digest about the use of calculators that is still appropriate today. As the anecdote went, the difference between generations is that when an older person uses a calculator to solve a math problem, he or she also does the calculation mentally to make sure the machine didn’t make a mistake. When a younger person does a mental math calculation (i.e. counting change) they use a calculator to double-check their work.
I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
I enjoy the mental exercise of games like Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, completing crossword puzzles and putting together a well-turned phrase. I also like the fact that I can use the Internet to instantly check on road conditions anywhere in the United States. I like the fact that I can use MapQuest to map out a route to an unfamiliar destination. It is a way for a guy to ask for directions, without the humiliation of admitting to some stranger that you are lost. I like the fact that I can quickly search for a quote that I vaguely remember, but can’t place with its author.
Communication is another area where I try to find a healthy balance. I enjoy the carefully scripted letters from my mother and telephone calls from family and friends. I also enjoy the fact that I can communicate with my sister via e-mail. Both are important and both have a purpose.
Last Friday night, while traveling back from a basketball game in Hayden, I wanted to have a private discussion with one of my daughters about the recent hospitalization of my father. Cell service was good in Steamboat Springs, so she and I sent each other numerous text messages while the bus wound its way down snowy streets and highways. When we lost cell phone service going up Rabbit Ears Pass, I realized my cheek was wet. My daughter had brought me a little healing in a difficult time.
At the same time, I was sending text messages to my other daughter, gathering details about a recent business trip she had taken to Reno, Nev. She had enjoyed a very successful trip and that made me feel happy and warm inside. It brought another type of healing. I was grateful for the technology that had allowed both of those emotions to happen. I was four hours away from both daughters and I felt so close to them that I could practically see their faces.
In my brief time on this planet, I have been exposed to belief systems that have labeled various activities as worldly or evil. I remember hearing the theory that computers spelled the end of the world. It is my belief that computers are only as dangerous or threatening as the operator. The same can be said if your talking about guns or rubber bands. I can use the computer to send a note of endearment to my wife or to research the ingredients for a pipe bomb. The responsibility lies with me, not my PC, Macintosh or even the person who posted the ingredients for that bomb.
I get to choose how to use that information.
I am getting to the age where my joints snap, crackle and pop. I have strained a muscle putting on socks and I often have to rest after I change my mind. However, it is when I adopt a mindset of criticism that I really feel old, particularly when I realize my criticism is based on assumptions or simply a mistrust of something new. On the other hand, I feel energized when I discover a new way at looking at something or I allow myself to use a different way to handle old tasks. I am getting to the place in life where I need all of those energy-boosts I can find.
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