Technological Progress

I was going through a storage area at our church when I came across a relic of computers past: a floppy disk. If you have never learned much about computers, floppy disks were cutting-edge technology for storing information back in the 1990s. Before most of us had powerful devices that we carried around in our pockets and purses, devices capable of cloud-storage and global connectivity, we had bulky computers at home. If you wanted to download information, a 5.25 inch floppy disk could be inserted into a physical drive to download that information. I went down a nostalgic path in seeing the disk that I haven’t thought about in 20 years. I thought about computers gone by, learning how to type, the sound of dial-up internet with its unmistakable hisses and whirs. It struck me just how remarkable it is that technology has changed our lives so definitively in a mere 20 years.

These days, tech is a big part of our lives, even if not everyone is computer-savvy. More people have Amazon Prime accounts than have land-line telephones in this country. How we consume entertainment has changed. How we approach news, politics, and the very world around us is now different because of the availability of information. During a pandemic, it’s possible to hop on a computer and talk to someone across the globe with nearly no inconvenience. If we get sick, we take medications that have been thoroughly tested and reviewed using cutting-edge computing technology. People we would not otherwise keep up with are now our social media “friends.” It seems like every year there are new breakthroughs in graphics, new breakthroughs in processing efficiency. In a few brief years, the technology we are delighted to get becomes outdated, and is left behind.

Sometimes, I wonder about the cost of this breakneck speed to our society. Floppy disks have gone the way of the dodo – extinct, and mostly forgotten. If the values that drive our culture are so determined by progress that we feel continuous vertigo with the treadmill of innovation, what does that do to us as human beings? Because truly, even if we are surrounded by streaming services and 5G, we are much the same as the human beings that existed before all the complexity that modern life has brought to us. If the drive to achieve the next best thing, the greatest efficiency, the sweetest bottom-line pushes us to sacrifice everything for the sake of a fleeting ideal, who will pay the price?

Sometimes, it helps me to step out of my culture for a bit to take stock of what I value. Instead of chasing the next best car, the next best gaming system, the next best what-have-you, I think I’d rather invest in something that will never be obsolete. I’d rather make a memory with a friend. I’d rather spend an afternoon with a campfire, that decidedly out-of-date thing. Most of all, I seem to do better spiritually when I work to do the opposite of what our culture tells us: when I choose simplicity over complexity. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I think we would all be well-served to take a moment to wonder what it is that would really bring us joy in this chaotic world of ours. Hopefully a joy with a longer shelf-life than floppy disks.