Seeking Absolution for My Technology Guilt

I have an awkward relationship with technology. Because I was raised by two self-professed technophobes who were always very outspoken about technology’s detrimental and depersonalizing effect on human relationships, I assumed from a young age that all new technology (computers, Internet, cell phones, iPods, etc.) was intrinsically bad. I internalized the belief that life is better without technology, since my parents tend to glorify a more traditional lifestyle that’s completely technology-free. In fact, their home still has no Internet connection.

Having this mental wiring has made my own relationship with technology rather stressful. While using impressive technology such as my Macbook or iPhone, I fight a suffocating feeling of guilt, as if I’ve succumbed to some kind of soul-destroying force that is going to make my life less meaningful than it would be if I simply tossed them out the door. Every time I pick up my iPhone for a pointless Facebook check, I cringe inwardly, relieved that my parents can’t see how I’m ‘wasting time and brainwaves’ while engaging in impersonal interactions with people who I really should just call to meet for a coffee instead of messaging.

When my mom discovered my fifteen-year-old brother’s secret iPod purchase, she said, “I knew he’d get involved in it eventually” — ‘it’ being technology. I felt like pointing out that he wasn’t getting involved in drugs, just listening to music. It’s that attitude about technology being an addictive, damaging, drug-like substance that still rankles me.

Recently, however, I’ve become aware of several things. First of all, I belong to a very different generation than they do. It’s normal for older generations to feel skeptical and suspicious about new technological developments. The second thing is that, like it or not, my life has been revolutionized by technology. I don’t want to live in the bush with nothing but a bookshelf for company. My entire writing career has begun thanks to the online world and the portability of my laptop.

I want and need to learn how to enjoy technology without suffering from guilt. My upbringing alerted me to many valid points about technology’s negative impact, and I do keep those in mind at all times. More public discussion needs to be had about cell phone etiquette and remembering to engage with people around you, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing. I’m now trying to relax and not feel I have to account for every minute spent online. Technology can be good, even revolutionary, as long as it’s used intelligently.

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18 thoughts on “Seeking Absolution for My Technology Guilt

  1. I have the same love-hate relationship. Being aware is kind of where I’m at. As a parent, I can let technology slide in too easily…allow 20 minutes telly here and there, then It turns into half an hour, then an hour, while I waste time/finish work on my own screen. And my eldest is as easily addicted as I am. So, at the moment, telly and screen time has been reined back in. One family movie at the weekend and that is it. No tv, no computer (not even for homework and the teachers understand).
    One thing we have done for the last year is a screen-free day at the weekend. That counts for ALL of us. No telly, no smartphone checking, no computer. My eldest did think the Kindle should be banned too, but he’s changed his mind after we said he could get one this summer (there simply aren’t enough books in Qatar to keep up with his demands!). Anyway, it’s the best day of the week and ensures that I have to take a brake from my very blurred work/downtime boundaries.

    1. I really like the idea of a completely screen-free day on the weekends. The only problem is that that’s often when I get a lot of my writing done, when hubby is at home to watch the boys for a few hours during the day. On the other hand, why not dust off the old notebook and pen for a change?!

      1. You know, it’s still writing time. I love the fact that I get a bit bored too, because then letters get written, I play with poetry, and generally have some fun and unproductive writing time that feeds my soul!

  2. I hereby grant you absolution. (Someone has to do it, right?) 🙂
    As one of my art professors once said, “It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.” He used to scoff at rigid traditionalists. He used to tell us “You don’t have to do everything the way the Old Masters did it! They would be jumping up and down with joy for these tools if they had them!” That advice has always stayed with me. So now when I find a new tool, invention, or piece of technology, I think how I can best use it to fuel my creativity. And then, I picture the Old Masters jumping up and down for joy.

    1. I think that rigid traditionalists overlook the fact that there are always new technologies and new tools, and that the traditions they love come out of a particular context. And they might no longer apply. But I think it’s ok to monitor technology as well – some of it is good and some of it is less helpful.

    2. You’ve really hit the nail on the head with that comment and I thought about it all day. What a great image — all those stern Old Masters jumping around with excitement! You’ve truly given me my ‘absolution’ with that comment.

      1. So glad to hear it. It’s funny how often I’ve thought of that image too. It might be one of my best lessons from art school! Now both of us can go forth and let our creativity flourish!

  3. Denise, “it’s how you use it” is great advice. There has to be common sense and compromise in my opinion. The technology world is going to be entirely different when my kids are teenagers, so I’d better make half an effort to understand what they’re up to!
    Those internal conflicted feelings from our upbringing are hard to shift though!

    1. I agree. As parents, we have a responsibility to know at least as much as our kids do about the technologies they’re using, otherwise it has potential to get pretty scary.

  4. Living as I do on the computer as well, I am certainly biased, but I spend my days writing about the future of our planet and these technologies are replacing others that were far more dangerous, namely the car. To quote author Taras Grescoe, the real future of the city is 21st century technology (smartphone, computer, twitter) and 19th century transport (metro, trams, bikes) to which I would add small town living more traditional urban design. One could not live like we do without it.

    1. I’ve been wanting to ask you: Do you think that urban living is better for the environment than living in small towns? I’ve been thinking about this because, while living in a small town does increase the need to use a car (which you justifiably call a dangerous technology in your comment above), I’ve noticed that it also cuts down drastically on consumerism. City living, which may have more walkable streets and public transit, fuels consumer greed like nothing else because there is stuff to buy everywhere. Where I’m living now, there are so few options for shopping/takeout, etc. and, consequently, significantly less waste that we generate. Thoughts??

  5. The reference to the nefarious “it” made me chuckle, but that’s not to say I don’t understand your chagrin. Back before every school–nay, every classroom–had computers, my mom signed up me and my sister for a school describing itself as computer-oriented: one computer for each student in each of their classrooms!

    She felt computers were the wave of the future and that her children would do well to understand them. Despite all that, she had deep misgivings about technology and mistrusted communications not had in person or on the phone. She always fretted how much time I spent online, saying she hated how much personal interaction was done so impersonally through technology.

    I’m glad I was introduced to computers early despite my mom’s misgivings, and that her misgivings eventually did lead me to consider my time/presence online. I’m glad, too, to read this post and get a chance to think of my mom in this light and remember all the good of her sometimes seemingly inconsistent ways. 🙂

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