Technological Judgment

Andy Clark writes that we are a group of “Natural Born Cyborgs,” and I think this is a fine assertion. Technology, especially technology used for social purposes has become a working part of a great majority of people. This is okay! Contrary to William Powers who writes about taking a “digital sabbath” to take a break from being consumed by technology, I believe (and really hope) that people today will develop an ability train themselves to discern what is the correct time to use technology, specifically phones and cameras, and when it is inappropriate.

In the twelfth paragraph of “Sounds” in Walden, Thoreau writes about how much better it is to see, smell, and experience certain things, and the feelings he gets from them could never be written down. Upon talking about sailboats he has seen, he writes, “Who can write so graphically the history of the storms they have weathered as these rents have done?” No one. And even further, a tweet, a post, or a picture (even if it has a cool filter on it), will never bring about these same feelings.

I believe everything Thoreau writes in this section, as I have had an experience just like it. I was in Ghana for a good part of this past fall, and although I was certainly not as “connected” technologically, I still had my iPhone and its camera. Naturally I wanted to take pictures of everything that struck me as beautiful or memorable, and I did end up taking a lot of pictures. One evening at about dusk, a teacher at the school, who is now a good friend, offered to take me and my friend Patrick to a place he called “Pito Base.” Pito is an alcoholic drink that originates in the northern area of Ghana, where the teacher grew up, and “Pito Base” is a place where people who grew up in the north but now live in the south gather to meet and enjoy each others’ company. I knew immediately that I was being taken somewhere that no tourists ever go, and that what I was doing was an absolute privilege. We walked through dusty, beat up dirt roads that were far away from the cozy college hostel we were staying in, and little children pointed and yelled, apparently not used to seeing large white men walking around their village. We turned into a small “yard” that ended up being “Pito Base.” There were wooden benches arranged so that those sitting could see and converse with everyone around. A bowl was placed on a metal ring on the ground in front of me, and it was filled with the drink. For what seemed like hours, I conversed with locals about their culture and what they believe. We sat in this circle and drank pito out of bowls. It was dusk and it was beautiful. The sun was setting and the moon was already out and I was doing something people rarely do and that I will likely never do again. I wanted so badly to take my camera out and capture all of these moments…  but I used my judgment. It would have been so disrespectful to take out my iPhone and snap pictures of these people who so kindly let me into their life. Like Thoreau says, nothing would be able to recreate that moment I had, and I will never forget any of it.

I wonder if such a judgment can be taught or if it is just something that has to be felt. I hope that people can learn this sort of technological judgment and remember that life is all about little moments that cannot be captured or recreated.