As a Computer Engineering student at Manchester University in the late Seventies, I was awed by the processing power of the supercomputers and the capacity of the disk drives. After eleven years of design of mainframe computers spanning three continents, my fate would take me into the marketing of semiconductors for the PC and now the technology for high-speed access to the Internet. Each technology was awesome in some way: speed, power, and complexity. And the more I learned, the less, in retrospect, I felt I knew.
For those who think that the hi-tech/Internet mania is something totally new, please rest assured that we have had many waves like this. Back in the seventeenth century there was a "Tulip Mania" in Holland where the price of tulips went nuclear much the same way hi-tech stocks have today. Those who borrowed to invest went bankrupt.
In the United States 200 years later, a similar speculative craze arose over the railroad industry, which was followed by an unhealthy interest in silver mining. Yes, there was a stock market frenzy in the 1920s during which people invested in companies of which they had no knowledge. Sound familiar? And yes there was a market "correction" that led to the crash, followed by the Great Depression. Fast forwarding to the sixties and we see the advent of the computer and then the birth of the PC. With each invention there was a hoard of companies that started. But thanks to the effects of market forces and consolidation, only the strong survived.
So what has all this technology brought us? It's allowed us to build an economy and an infrastructure that allows us to exchange goods and services. It has brought hoards of wealth to some and poverty to others. Whether it is the industrial revolution of yesteryear or the information revolution of today, technology has provided tremendous power to modern man, allowing him to dominate nature and other civilizations.
Supposedly technology brings with it progress, but like many things in life it's a double-edged sword. We have eradicated many diseases and illnesses, and bore new ones. We have technology, which shrinks time to do any task, but none-the-less we seem to have less of it. We have developed and used nuclear power both to destroy life as in the case of nuclear weapons and to help give life as in radiation therapy for cancer.
However, progress, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Like many words, we can give it the meaning we want, or take it as it's defined to us. But as rational human beings we should always question and make a conscious decision in every step that impacts our families, our communities, our coming generations and us. Technology is not a magic wand that can overcome all our problems. At its best it can help and compliment the God-given innate gifts we have. At its worst it can dehumanize men and women, young and old, destroying the very fiber of our society.
A computer in every classroom or a cell-phone for every individual will not solve the social issues we have. The media in all their forms both directly in commercials and indirectly via content promote more than a product; they promote attitudes, values and lifestyles that surround consumption of that product. They send an implicit message about the standard of living and patterns of behavior that are a norm for the society. For the well to do, there's no issue. But for the shrinking middle class and poor all over the world playing the constant game of catch-up, just trying to get on the accelerating treadmill of life becomes a self-defeating goal.
As a high-tech Bedouin, the next time you're in the store contemplating which gadget to add to your arsenal, think of the longevity of it. Each small, blazingly fast, shiny gizmo today will be a slow useless object tomorrow lying in a dump, waiting for its half-life to come to an end.
So let us pursue a livelihood of voluntary simplicity that directly contributes to the well being of the whole world and enables us to use more fully our God-given capacities. The technology merry go round will continue turning; you just have to know when to get on and more importantly when to get off. With this I close as my cell-phone rings, my pager buzzes, and my Palm hand-held beeps. Maybe one day they will develop a technology that will take care of this generation of technology so that we can all have quality time, a meaningful life, and a real community. Until then go slow, you hi tech-Bedouins!
Javed Mohammed is author of the book "Gems of Wisdom Heart of Gold: Inspiration from the past for people of the future". The book is available at amazon.com, and through Barnes and Noble bookstores.