Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day, the 243rd anniversary of the 13 colonies disembarking from Great Britain. Happy Birthday United States of America! Something that goes along with the festivities is that many of us have the day off. School’s out. Most businesses that aren’t retailers are shuttered. There’s less going on indoors, replete with TVs and gadgets, than there is outside, weather permitting.
These factors combine to make Fourth of July ripe for my challenge to you: Declare independence from technology. Separate yourself from the smartphones, tablets, TVs and DVRs, and all the other digital conveniences and crutches that 243 years of U.S. borne innovation and commerce have created.
Knowing, as I presume you do (it’s right in the title), that my function among our excellent journalists at The Times-Tribune is essentially all about technology, this may seem counterproductive. While I hazard to even evoke the field’s greatest, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates or Apple’s Steve Jobs, to support my challenge to you, I must say that I’m not the first or only techie to ironically caution against using these cool toys and devices. Those two giants, themselves, pooh-poohed their own digital creations. Gates wouldn’t allow his daughter to get a cell phone until she was 14. Jobs forbade his kids from using iPads when they hit the market. Can you imagine?! It’d be as if the great Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette” was your dad but relegated you to bicycles until you turned 21 (note to my Bowling Green cohort, and all those ‘Vette owners: I know … Harley Earl…). So, with the precedent set by the pioneers of tech, let me lay out some rationale to declare independence from technology tomorrow.
Let’s go no further than keeping the focus, as Jobs and Gates did, on the kiddies. Scan through the Declaration of Independence and replace “Great Britain” with “smartphone” or “iPad” or “gaming console” and such. Replace “Colonies” or “States” with “my children.” Here’s one result: “The history of the present iPhone is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over my children.” Pretty dramatic, I’d agree. Not melodramatic though. We know that these technologies cause injuries, to be sure. This weekend I was teaching in D.C. A fellow professor was rammed from behind by a driver who was … Anyone? Ding, ding, ding! Yes sir-ee-bob, “texting and driving” was what we were looking for. That’s a very acute example. More to the point, study after study suggests that the addictive powers of these digital babysitters foster lower self-esteem, negatively affect kids’ moods, and detract from personal relationship building.
Now for some melodramatic injuries. Last week, for whatever reason, many media outlets in America and elsewhere picked up on research done in Australia over a year earlier. The researchers out back claimed that, seriously now, younger device users who are at near-addictive levels of connection are growing horns at the back of their skulls from constantly drooping forward, locked onto a screen. Most serious scientists disregarded the study, yet, there’s something injurious there I believe.
Here’s another find-and-replace experiment with the Declaration of Independence: “That my children are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent children; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the PlayStation 4, and that all political connection between them and video gaming consoles, is and ought to be totally dissolved….” Here, at the least, we’re not talking about altering the paleontology of homo erectus. Yet still the admonition fits the bill. Are kids today allegiant to technology? You betcha. Where else but school can one hear the Pledge of Allegiance? Thus, the irony isn’t lost on me that in that same environment students’ loyalty and obedience to tech is pervasive. Laptops are issued like textbooks. Homework is submitted online. Last week I refereed a Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation entitled “An Empirical Analysis of Perceptions towards the Impending Use of Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education Institutions.” I’ll translate: “Time to build robot teachers!” Honestly, that has already begun with many schools deploying artificial intelligence at the head of a class. During the Ph.D. student’s research he learned about a Georgia university that taught an entire online course via a COBOT, a COllaborative roBOT, which is distinguishable from a robot in a manner that doesn’t help us, here. It was a computer based on IBM’s Watson model that famously ruled Jeopardy! in 2011.
No one would ever say that Jefferson drafted the Declaration with technology in mind. He so eloquently and cogently crafted that guiding document as the basis of the American experience, primarily as against the rule of King George III. Whether you think that comparing colonial tyranny to the ever present onus of smartphones and other devices is apt, you have to admit that you, and most definitely your kids and grandchildren, can’t seem to go a day without bowing down, quite literally, to the screen. It is, I dare say, self-evident if you are a conscious observer of life. With that truism in mind, join me tomorrow in declaring your independence from technology. Look upward toward actual fireworks, not downward to the Fireworks Arcade app.
Comparing our dependence on tech to the Laws of Nature that compelled the Founding Fathers to break free from Britain may seem misplaced, inappropriate even. And, in spite of that, I will share the closing sentence of the Declaration without supplanting any language, though you might see how it comes close to applying to my challenge anyway.
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Ed is a professor of cybersecurity, an attorney, and a trained ethicist. Reach him at email@example.com.