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Jewish World Review
Sept. 6, 2007
/ 23 Elul, 5767
What Have We Wrought?
The excitement of the new technologies has had wide-ranging effects on our culture, both good and bad, but one of the strangest effects has been the decision of millions of citizens to voluntary give up long-held rights and privileges.
Take the Facebook phenomenon. Men, women and children from all over the world are publishing photos and personal information for virtually anyone else to see. (There are settings which allow only those whom you choose to see the information, but that circle tends to grow as pressure from friends and classmates grows. And, of course, savvy users know how to get around such prohibitions.)
What's odd about Facebook is that it, and similar sites, have overturned the traditional and natural reluctance we have to share private matters with anyone but our closest family and friends. Imagine, for example, that the Internet did not exist, and that a parent went to his teenage son or daughter and said, "I have a really cool idea. Why don't we get you and your friends to post pictures of each other, along with news of who you're dating and what you're up to, on a big bulleting board at school so all your classmates can keep up with your life?" No way!
Or what if an employer said to a white collar worker (again, assuming the Internet did not exist) that, while he appreciates the 40 hours the worker gives the company, he would like to devise a system by which the employer and the employee could stay in touch 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, even while on vacation. That way, the worker wouldn't have the "inconvenience" of having to be in the office; he could answer questions and deal with work-related issues anytime and anyplace. "What? You want me available to work unlimited hours while paying me for 40?" Again, no way!
In addition to giving up so much of our personal lives, the new technologies have also forced us to spend endless hours on truly trivial matters. In a world without cell phones, would you really want to paste decorative wallpaper on your old telephones? Would you really want to spend time and money picking out different songs your phone would play when someone called you? Would you tell the hostess at a restaurant that you were expecting some calls from friends who would want to ask, "Hey, what's up?"
Without computers and the Internet in the office, how much time would you waste at work playing repetitive games (I don't remember people bringing Monopoly boards into the office), or "surfing" through newspapers and encyclopedias?
I keep hearing about all the time-saving advantages of technology, but the savings have been more than balanced by the time-wasting aspects of that same technology. A 1980's Time magazine reported on a crisis facing the American worker; namely, how would he fill all his leisure time as technological advances pushed us toward a three-or-four-day work week? Well, welcome to the seven-day work week. Some advance.
So here we are. We're available to our employers day and night. We post the most personal information on the Internet for all to see. We allow companies to compile the most complete profile of our shopping, eating and reading habits. We allow virtually anyone to butt into our most intimate conversations by phone, email or instant messaging. We're spied on by ubiquitous cell phone cameras. Our kids are now able to strike up conversations with total strangers anywhere in the world. We sit patiently as our dinner companions check various devices to make sure someone else isn't more important at that moment. And we did all of this voluntarily and without thinking much about the consequences.
Welcome to Society 2.0.
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JWR contributor Pat Sajak is the recipient of three Emmys, a Peoplesí Choice Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He's currently the host of Wheel of Fortune.
© 2007, Pat Sajak