Star Trek foretold of an astonishing future of transporters, communicators, and replicators. I wonder how many of those who watched the show back then envisioned that by the beginning of the 21st century we would be active participants in some of this technology.
But lo and behold, some 36 years after Capt. James T. Kirk first made his appearance on the bridge of the Enterprise, just about everyone is communicating in ways not imagined in the ’60s.
Today, we can look almost anywhere and we’ll find personal computers, cell phones, voice mail, pagers and palm pilots. And if asked the question in the late ’60s “How do you feel Star Trek-like advances in communication would affect your life?” I’m certain the majority of us would have responded with comments such as, “it would be wonderful,” or “liberating,” or “wow, I can’t wait!”
It’s doubtful many would have responded with, “Oh no, how utterly intrusive.” But think about this for a moment. How many times per week, per day or per hour do we check our e-mail, voice mail and pagers? So has technology really freed us or has it become intrusive? In many respects, the technological revolution has created a world of worker-bees hidebound by electronic tethers.
While modern communication devices sometimes make our lives easier, there is another perspective. The business culture of the 21st century demands that workers understand that continual communication comes with the territory, along with the corollary that it’s considered essential to be available before and after “normal business hours.”
We’re not going to change the culture of the 21st century regarding the ubiquitous use of cell phones and pagers, but at the same time I grow weary of the cacophonous beeps, rings and braying of these devices in public spaces.
Over the years we have discovered that many technological advances have downsides. I doubt if Alexander Graham Bell foresaw the use that telemarketers would one day make of his invention, or that subscribers to his creation would be driven to request unlisted numbers because of the constant intrusions.
Now we have the first cousin of the telephone, the cell phone, which also has its particularly irritating anti-social ways. When thoughtlessly used, cell phones can make the people damn the technology that spawned them – until their own cell phone rings.
Everyone raises their voice an octave or so while on a cell phone, and I find it an intrusion on my personal space when I’m forced to listen to inane conversations on a chairlift, in line at a checkout counter, or at the Denver Zoo. I don’t want to listen to someone talk about a deal or a tidbit of gossip while I’m having lunch in a restaurant.
From my perspective, these open-air conversations qualify somewhere on the irritation scale between annoying and maddening; surpassed in nuisance only by those who must drive 20 mph below the posted speed limit so they can focus on their cell phone conversation instead of their driving. But on the other hand, how many of us really want to do without these conveniences?
Life is a matter of an individual’s point of view. With regard to cellular technology, new parents out for dinner for the first time after bringing their baby home from the hospital want their babysitter to have the ability to contact them immediately. The same applies to parents who keep track of the children with pagers, and there’s no denying that a cell phone is awfully handy if you happen to have a blowout on I-70 during a snowstorm – as I did last winter.
Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s doubtful many of us imagined that “anytime-anyplace” communication would be an intrusion upon our personal lives. After all, we never saw Capts. Kirk or Picard interrupted by “communicator” calls while they were saving the universe. I don’t recall any episodes in which Kirk was asked to pick up a loaf of bread at the “replicator,” or Star Fleet Command requesting Jean Luc Picard to send the report on subspace radiation while he was battling the Borg.
But that was the world of TV science fiction in the 24th century, and we live in the 21st century. Am I about to give up my cell phone? No way! But I don’t to use it when it may be an intrusion upon someone else.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree can be reached at email@example.com