In a few weeks, the Apple Watch will ship. We will no longer need to constantly reach into our pockets to check our phones. We can stare at our wrists instead.
But jokes aside, technology is changing us. More information is accessible on our wrists than entire libraries could hold just a few decades ago. We’re intensely aware of the world we live in. We can process information faster, analyze data with more accuracy and solve problems with greater efficiency than most ever dreamed.
It’s an amazing era to live in. It’s also quite costly. With every technological advance, every modern breakthrough, we give up something. This principle is a universal truth. To gain, something else is lost. Most of the time this is obvious. Gain a new shirt, give up $50. Gain a day at the beach, give up a day of work. But with new technology, sometimes we forget to count the cost. We know the newest smart-device has a retail price. But what are we losing when the information superhighway is attached to us?
Getting lost. When I was a kid, my dad used to play a game when we’d go fishing or otherwise exploring in which the goal was to go “off the map.” We’d drive down roads at the edge of a map, and then go further. We put ourselves at the mercy of his memory to get home. Everything that followed surprised us. And it taught me to take chances on the uncharted. GPS is a wonderful tool. But a generation will soon be of age that never knew a road that wasn’t already mapped out. What will that cost us?
Vulnerability. With information at our fingertips, there’s no need to ever admit ignorance. We can lookup on the Internet the best places to take a date, how to tie a bow-tie, what big words mean and how to make an apple pie. All of these things and so many more once required us to humbly ask for help. Men hate asking for help, it makes us feel weak, vulnerable. But there is great value in that place. We won’t learn courage if we don’t learn to be vulnerable. To be a man of courage, one must first be scared to act — then act anyways. A wise man once told me courage is taking a step towards someone when you are most vulnerable to do so. But if we stop doing that in small ways, how will we ever show courage in big moments when Google can’t help?
Quick recall. Has the human mind ever been this sharp and this lazy at the same time? We’re so damn smart. Seriously. But if we don’t have our phones, we don’t know much. What’s 35% off $79.99? Without a smartphone, most of us would need 10 minutes to figure that out. Quick, your phone is dead and you need to call your brother on the landline — what’s his phone number? No clue.
Conversation. Socially connected, right? Then why do we immediately reach for our phones and look down on an elevator with someone else? We’ve gained so much connection in virtual worlds that the habit threatens to overtake the physical world around us. We can tweet and text and blog like maniacs. But we struggle to make small talk with neighbors. Nothing wrong with Facebook. But is that a trade we want to make?
Self-reliance. Once upon a time, men had the Neanderthalian task of driving their own cars. It’s true. They had to pay attention to other vehicles, balance speed, direction and engine performance, while also conversing with passengers and even tuning radio stations. Today, Mercedes makes a car that keeps itself in the lane, slows when other cars brake and parks itself. It’s amazing technology. And it will soon be mainstream. But what of the men sitting in the “driver’s” seat? Will the joy of driving a well-engineered machine soon go the way of splitting wood to burn in a fireplace? After all, we have gas lines and electrical switches now. No need to own an ax, much less know how to use one.
The danger in lists like these is falling into the anti-technology trap. Don’t go there. All of these advances are wonderful. We have better information, we are aware of loved ones living far away and human lives are even being saved. But challenge yourself once in awhile over the price of such gains. Ask if what we’re losing is worth trying to preserve.
And maybe, once in awhile, turn off the GPS, memorize some emergency contacts, leave your phone at home and go get lost. You can always ask a stranger for directions to get back.