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The tech world is abuzz over the revelation of Apple’s latest gizmo, the iPad. The only negative press that I’ve seen thus far has to do with whether John & Jane Q. Public will be able to afford the device, which starts at $500. But expense isn’t the most pressing problem surrounding the Apple tablet.
At the risk of being a curmudgeon or Luddite, let me ask simple question:
Does our society truly need one more high-tech distraction?
We’re more obsessed with our toys than ever before. What I wrote in BusinessWeek.com when Apple released its iPhone in 2007 is, sadly, still true:
Our society has devolved into a mass of turned-on, tuned-out, and plugged-in technophiles. Whatever distinction used to exist between public and private life is all but gone, as one can witness on any city street, bus, plane, or shopping mall. Waiting in line at the grocery store or post office used to mean striking up a conversation with the person in front of you. It now involves blurting the intimate details of one's love life into a cell phone for all to hear or scrolling through a playlist for just the right song, or surfing the Web for something we want but don't really need.
I coined the term “iSolation” to refer to way that technology is coming between us. Yes, our gadgets have brought us many wonderful things: we connect to long-lost friends on Facebook; we submit resumes to prospective employers electronically rather than by destroying trees and polluting the environment with ink and toner; we even dash off blogs like this one to comment on breaking news and to stimulate instantaneous debate.
But the costs of iSolation are real and significant. The New York Times recently explored the dangers that walking with a cell phone poses to pedestrians and drivers alike. It’s just a matter of time before someone walking down the street with an Apple tablet hurts or kills someone else (or him/herself).
I’m not suggesting that tech companies like Apple should shut down their research and development departments. Technology is morally neutral; it can be put to good or harmful purposes. The problem isn’t Apple; it’s that we’re a nation of idiots. We believe that just because we can do something, then we ought to do it. If it’s possible to drive while texting—well, why not indulge? True, this dramatically increases the risk of having a car accident, but that’s a risk that applies only to other people, right?
It’s time to wake up from the fantasy that there are no consequences to the wonderful playthings we surround ourselves with. I’m just as curious as you are to see how cool the Apple tablet will be. Maybe I’ll even get one (!). But I hope I’ll be able to resist the temptation to spend more time with it than I do with my lovely bride, my family and friends, or my thoughts while I’m walking down the street.
The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible speaks of “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” There’s also a time to enjoy the bounties of the latest brilliant invention, and a time to turn the dad-blasted thing off and experience the joys of life offline, in person, and unmediated by a glowing screen.
Dr. Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy, is the author of Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught? (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, 2009). Contact him through his Web site, TheEthicsGuy.com.
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