Recently I mentioned to a friend that it was difficult to communicate with some persons I need to keep in touch with because they either do not use computers, or do so infrequently. Sending them email is next to useless, and other means of contacting them is way too slow. He suggested that I have little patience with and feel sorry for those who refuse to keep up with technology. That was far from what I said or feel, but it led to an interesting discussion.
My friend lamented the pros and cons of technological advancements, describing them as being like making two steps forward and one and a half back. The essence of what I said in reply follows.
It's really more like tacking, to draw on a sailing analogy — like zigging and zagging. I'm not aware of many outright backward steps. The ultimate result is forward progress, in some sense of the term, and it's usually for the common good.
Mankind is by nature an explorer and a learner. We also have ability to share our knowledge. We are social creatures, meaning that being made in the image of the God of love, we intuitively help one another. It's built into our biological firmware to do so.
The term "economy" is wontedly associated with commerce and money, therefore implicitly with materialism, greed, and selfishness, concepts that rankle the sensibilities of persons with sensitive consciences. They may as a result condemn industry for its intrinsically base motives.
I don't think that way myself for a second.
Economy is at its core about people helping one another. I do for you, and you do for me; the result will be that we'll both be better off. It's more ... umm ... "economical" for us to have that sort of relationship.
When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he created what? — an economy — in the form of a family. God is recorded as having said at the time: "It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him." (Genesis 2:18)
Later God had the Congregator Solomon record this thought: "Every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God." (Ecclesiastes 3:13) Working hard and getting results is good and has God's blessing.
Each one of mankind who is able to do so is obliged to participate in contributing to the work of mankind to the best of his ability. The apostle Paul warned those who lazily refuse to hold up their end with this admonition: "We used to give you this order: 'If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.'" — 2 Thessalonians 3:10
In Eden, at least for a while, Adam pursued his calling while Eve fulfilled her complementary role. They worked both independently and together as one, and were mutually benefitted by the arrangement. Adam might have said to his beloved partner, the most beautiful woman in the world: "While you're preparing a fire, I'll go gather vegetables for dinner from the garden. When I get back we can make something to eat." And so it went.
Unfortunately for us all, before long their business failed, but the principles of economic cooperation they first enacted remain.
Today's world economy is structured from individuals, teams, companies, and cooperating governments at various levels, ostensibly, though not always in practice, working together to oil the wheels.
People whose motive in starting a business is simply making money earn little respect from me compared with those who nurture their passions and talents to produce something extraordinary that others can benefit from. Not that the exchange of valuable commodities or services is unimportant; if no one wants the left-handed weasel traps some entrepreneur offers, he gets nothing in return. Economy stops; everyone shifts gears and moves on to other pursuits.
As a convenience, men have created money — to measure, regulate, and standardize the exchange of that which is perceived to be of value. Ordinarily, if I need a bag of carrots from the grocery store, I don't write a few lines of computer code for the farmer who grew them. The way it works is far more complicated and flexible than that. Countless individuals get involved in the process, with money or its equivalent changing hands on many levels. Underneath it all, that's basically what's happening: A farmer grows carrots and sends them to market, and he gets paid for them. I want carrots, so I go to a grocery store with money and get them. I get most of my money from writing computer code. In the end neither one of us knows the other is alive, but we have worked to benefit one another.
A few years ago the Internet came along and changed everything — absolutely everything — far more than any previous advances in communication and transportation ever have, even more than automobiles or airplanes or telephones, or television, and even more than computers all by themselves. For better or worse, the global village that Marshall McLuhan predicted decades ago has become one of the most pervasive realities of our age. All around the world electronic devices are now persistently connected. When those devices started talking to each other, so did the people who ran them, and things really started to happen — and it's barely gotten started.
Well, not quite everything has changed. Admittedly, we who live in the US tend to have parochial views about the rest of the world. Yes, there are still billions of poor people in the world who are starving, totally uneducated, and so helpless in the face of their own desperate circumstances that their only prospect in life is to hang in there until they die. Most of them will never have the opportunity to make worthy use of the lives God gave them. I've never met one, but I'm led to believe they're out there.
But for those who live within reach of the cyber-sphere and its periphery, the reality is that we're more in what I refer to as the "I Love Lucy" era of the Internet. It's barely gotten rolling. A few visionaries are just now starting to figure out what we can do with all this newfound power.
The entire world economy and our way of doing things has shifted, but even the wisest visionaries still have little clue just where it's headed, even in the next five years. They didn't predict the state we are in today five years previously. I doubt anyone could do any better regarding what's just ahead. Mankind now has the tools and ability to grow world knowledge and understanding at an exponential pace, but none of us individually has the ability to absorb more than a tiny fraction. What it all leads to, as the rate of change approaches the asymptotical, will understandably become increasingly hard to predict, and even more so to control.
There's no universal law dictating that anyone has to go along for the ride. Everyone has freedom of choice. It's still entirely possible for someone to live a contentedly happy and healthy life paying little or no attention to what goes on around him. No one is obliged to own telephones or televisions or automobiles, or to read books or even to acquire indoor plumbing. That stuff all costs money — lots of it — and makes life correspondingly complicated, and we are taught by allegedly wise men to believe that a simple life is a better life, are we not?
It's not always easy, though, to avoid those things. And it's definitely often not advantageous, including for persons who must interact with those who remain isolated.
People who grouse about technology are usually those who have been left behind, have left themselves behind, or who have misused it or refused to put forth any effort to confront it. Most of such persons would grouse about something else in the absence of technology.
How am I supposed to be of assistance these days to someone who has no telephone or means of transportation? He has made himself helpless, but is it my obligation to adjust to that person's ways? I think not. In such cases there's an unbridgeable disparity that obliges us to live in different worlds.