Bernhardt column: Confessions of a gadget guy

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

I must confess. In my heart, Iím a gadget guy.
I marvel at the wonders of modern technology and, unlike most people my age, welcome new innovations with open arms. Well, most of them anyway.
If you want to make me happy at Christmas, give me a gadget. I donít even have to know what it does. Iíll experience hours of intellectual stimulation by exploring its capabilities on my own before I finally read the instructions and find out itís a digital can opener.
Most gadgets Iíve encountered have made my life somewhat less complicated, at least in a subtle way. Like many of you though, I struggle with the impact of technology on my life.
Does it make life better, or just different?
Like it or not, we have been swept into a digital world of wonder. It seems at times that our very lives have been reduced to mere bits and bytes. Our daily actions are captured in some sort of digital universe, and theyíre available to the world in mere seconds.
Convenient? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes again.
Got a problem? A solution is just a computer click away. Need to know something? Whip out your cell phone, press a few buttons, and bingo-bango, thereís the answer. Some cell phones even make calls.
I have to confess I didnít see a few technological oddities coming. Never would I have guessed that texting would catch on. Typing words to people instead of actually talking to them? I doubt if Alexander Graham Bell envisioned that.
Pardon me while a verse of an old Zager and Evans tune plays through my head:
ěIn the year forty-five forty-five
Ainít gonna need your teeth, wonít need your eyes
You wonít find nothiní to chew
Nobodyís gonna look at youÖî
My 18 -year-old daughter amazed me with a statistic the other day. ěHey Dad,î she said. ěGuess how many texts Iíve sent and received since I got this phone last year.î
ěI dunno,î I pondered. ěSomewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 to 6,000 since I see you texting all the time.î
ěTry somewhere in the neighborhood of 42,000,î she chirped.
Forty-two thousand! Forty-two thousand? I couldnít conceive typing that many messages on those tiny little buttons in less than a yearís time.
It startles me enough to think that teenagers would rather type than talk, but to do it so effortlessly in such a short time while hunched over a tiny black rectangle seems incredible to me.
Our parents couldnít get us off the phone. Now, teenagers use a phone for everything but actually phoning someone. Nope, didnít see that one coming.
About 15 years ago, I was in a local restaurant. Computers were just beginning to become a household item, and the internet was in its infancy.
Puzzled by the changes coming into her life, a woman at a nearby table exclaimed, ěComputers are straight from the devil! They will ruin our society!î I took that to mean she didnít know how to use one.
Well maíam, I beg to differ. Computers, cellphones, and even coffee makers will not ruin us, but how we choose to use them might. It all comes down to making wise choices.
The technology around us is indeed wonderful. Like a simple hammer, it is a mere tool that we can choose how and when to use. We can even choose not to use it. Itís up to us.
Much of it saves us time that we can better use for more worthwhile things, like actually spending precious moments with our loved ones. But we have to choose to do that. Thatís where we come up short.
I have a family friend who was once an avid photographer. He had traveled the world and had a massive number of photographs documenting his visits.
Once, while I listened to his plans about an upcoming journey, I was startled when he told me he didnít plan to take his camera along.
ěWhy?î I asked. ěYou always have a camera.î
He said he suddenly realized one day that he was spending so much time taking pictures of the wonders of nature that he was failing to actually look at and appreciate it.
Thereís a lesson in there somewhere. If you find it, text it to a few of your friends.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.