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Call me a Luddite...

Posted by davidvc on April 17, 2007 at 4:27 PM PDT

I just returned from a week in Mexico, a wonderful time with my family where
we lived very simply - food, rest, physical fun. No TV, no movies, no
cell phones, no computers. Bright sunshine, beautiful beaches, very
friendly people wherever we went.

Then I came home to San Francisco and straight to the
Web 2.0 Expo.
The contrast has been a bit disorienting. I don't think it's a surprise
that my one year old son learned to say "Hi" in Mexico - people actually
greeted him there and interacted with him. Here in the conference, on the
BART train, on the street, we are all in our own world. We are on our
laptops, our phones, our iPods.

The keynote talks at the Expo underscored again and again an undeniable
trend: there is an ever growing explosion of the use of consumer devices
and connecting to the Internet. The vast scales of data and connections
we are looking at are almost impossible to imagine. The whole world
is "getting connected." And those of us at the Expo are generally
very excited, and see lots of opportunities to make money and
and to build things that lots and lots of people will use.

But I feel a sadness when I find myself in this environment. I feel like
I am losing something. I watch myself "plug in," and I feel like I
am actually losing connection. I crave the open sky, the deep
stillness and power of the ocean, of the smiles of people who said
"Hi" to my son.

I don't know why everyone else is constantly plugging in, but I know why I
do it. I do it to distract myself. From what? From discomfort.

From reading books on this subject and
from my own experience as a father, I have come to understand that
babies need to cry. It's a way of relieving stress, and when
they're done crying, they are much calmer and happier.

But when a baby is crying, most of us think something is wrong, and
we feel we have to stop the crying. If they're not hungry
or wet or tired, then we try other things. We jiggle them, we walk them,
we sing to them, we give them a toy, we give them a binkie. We put
them in front of a TV. We do everything we can to get them to stop.
And ultimately something usually works. But it disrupts the natural
process of crying to relieve stress. And we habituate them to using
distractions to avoid suffering.

I have read over and over again in various spiritual traditions that
suffering is a great teacher, that if we can just be with our pain it
can transform us and heal us. What I see in our culture is that in
general we don't know how to do this, and we're doing everything we
can to distract ourselves. And those of us in the technology industry
find ourselves in the position of making money by feeding this habit.

One of the reasons I like working for Sun is that as a company we
seem to really get that it is good for business to be good stewards
for our planet and our community. I think that's a very sane
business model. But I don't think we in the technology industry
really see or consider the potential damage feeding more and more
technology to consumers has on our community. Over the coming years
I believe the evidence will
begin to pile up around the detrimental effects of the over-use of
technology, especially for children. No business
strategy is sustainable if the health of the community suffers as a
result, and I believe this constant plugging in is seriously unhealthy
for all of us.

Technology in itself is not evil. It can be used as a tool to do
great good in
the world
. But sometimes I feel that our industry believes
anything technological can only be great. And to say otherwise,
I almost feel as if I were betraying the clan I am part of.
But sometimes you just have to speak your mind.