Moving Backwards

I consider myself a futurist in many respects. I’ve always been a fan of progress – the latest technology trend, the newest gadget, visions of the 21st century. Heck. I was for the first person I knew with VOIP. This passion probably started with my father. Though we were a blue collar family that didn’t have much, we were also some of the first or few with a VCR, Apple computer, and ATARI before it was called ATARI. He liked to tinker with CB radios and remote control cars. And though it seemed like child’s play, I can see how he laid the groundwork for my own curiosity with tech. My mother can also claim credit. As a records management professional, she provided my earliest exposure to computing. Searching and printing microfilm was a favorite activity. I played with anything that I couldn’t break and watching her type away at a computer was in a word, “cool.”

So, fast forward some years. I went on to study at MIT, where I was exposed to a bounty of tech, including Sun Microsystems, coding, and the MP3. Everything felt like it served a purpose – technology seemed to make life better. My interest continued through careers in environmental policy, management consulting, and design. But I only incorporated tech where appropriate. For example, I went without cable television and high-speed internet simply because I didn’t need it. I bought my first cell phone after issues with my land line, and I still use my mother’s 40-year-old sewing machine.

This idea of usefulness inspires my philosophy in futurism. Nothing should be adopted and promoted for its own sake. If something requires a literal change in lifestyle or behavior to use it, it’s just not very useful. Similarly, society’s obsession with convenience has diminished the very meaning of the word. In some strange way, we’re adapting our lives to be dependent on tech, creating complex systems and processes to make it happen. What’s useful? What’s convenient? And how will the future balance it all?

As I think back to my childhood, I can see the genesis of the need for balance. Yes, we had a microwave when other families were heating cans of soup on the stove. And I executed my first computer program when I was in elementary school, while other kids were climbing trees (though I did that too). BUT, many clothes were hand-me-downs and our Christmas toys were used. It was through these experiences that I learned balance, and that new wasn’t necessarily better. If a smart phone doesn’t offer what I need but distracts me with useless features, I’ll pass.

As we progress, it’s up to all of us to question what’s both useful and valuable to society. When it comes to tech, it’s important that we invest our resources in the right way and for the right cause.