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Technology is a Tool—Not If But How

The cab drivers of Paris, like the weavers of England before them, rose up against technology recently, slashing the tires and breaking the windshields of drivers working for the car-sharing service Uber.

We are in the midst of a global conversation about the role of technology in our lives and its effect on everything from labor to societal engagement. This dialogue about technology is front and center—it’s in the movies (Her), it’s on the best-seller list (The Circle), and it can make us uncomfortable. Take the juxtaposition of these two videos:

I Forgot My Phone

iPad Air Commercial

In the first, technology renders us self-absorbed and disconnected; it makes us miss out on the (real) life going on around us. In the second, technology is about creation, participation, and sharing; it makes us better people. It’s a provocative commentary, and the struggle between the two conceptions is evident.

It’s important to remember that our phones and our laptops are tools—no different than a hammer. We can use a hammer to build a house, to create art, or to hit someone over the head. A mobile phone is just that, a tool; it’s not the cause—it merely implements or executes our choices. The disconnect, the stress, the potential harm (after all, recent crashes and bubbles have been, in broad strokes, the result of focusing on process, on new tools/strategies, but not the impact on real people in real time) come when the tools become the ends in and of themselves, when people venerate the tool above function and result, causing us to lose our sight of our goals and ideals.

And while we may struggle with how much technology we want in our lives, there is no choice on the direction. Technology, like the arrow of time, moves in one direction; standing in the way won’t stop it and choosing . You can choose not to participate, but the world will pass you by. The choice then is not in using it but in how you use it.

And because Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, I thought that this was particularly apt: