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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Information Age

I am the first to admit I am technologically challenged. I can obviously use a computer and the Internet, but I don't own a Blackberry or a Smart phone, or whatever those things are called and I rarely ever use my cell phone. In fact, I can apparently access the Internet with my phone and take photographs, but I don't know how to do either. I have yet to get Skype working on my computer (has video but no audio). As I consider all of this, I realize that I prefer the "information access" aspect of the Internet age to the "communication" aspect.

Don't get me wrong, I love email. It is quick, easy and inexpensive. It is less intrusive than calling someone on the phone when it may not be convenient. It allows you to to say things that you may not be comfortable saying face-to-face or over the phone. Social networking allows you to connect with people you haven't seen or heard from in a long time and online support groups draw together people who share similar experiences and can provide each other with the emotional support they may not be able to receive from family and friends. Cell phones are also useful communication tools, especially when you have children. I do think they are way over-used, however. Adam and I tend to use them only when absolutely necessary and very few people have our cell phone numbers. And that's about where I draw the line with modern communication tools.

I refused, when offered, to take a Blackberry from the research company I used to work for. I had no interest in being reachable by clients and colleagues after I left the office. I wanted my time with my family to be family time. Period. And one of the things I hated most about the corporate world was the complete lack of courtesy shown by most people who use these gadgets. One colleague, in particular, would frequently interrupt me in the middle of a conversation to text someone on his Blackberry. Most of my colleagues showed an unhealthy addiction to these devices, so much so, that it interfered with them actually getting their work done. They were far less efficient with their time than I was - sticking just to email and phone to communicate. I was shocked when one of my Blackberry-addicted colleagues bought his wife, a stay-at-home-mom, a fully equipped Blackberry. A regular cell phone wasn't good enough?!? It is also ridiculous to me to see adolescents and teenagers with these things. What do they need them for? With a few exceptions, I really see these things as unnecessary.

The access to information provided by the Internet is something I think is wonderful. I often wonder how different conducting research for personal, academic and professional purposes must have been like before we used the World Wide Web. And I readily admit I am addicted to the Internet. Lately, especially, I have become a serial researcher of random information. Generally, my interest gets sparked about some person, place of thing that I have read about or seen on television. This prompts some sort of search for more info, which leads to a search about some related issue, etc., etc. For example, I am reading an excellent novel right now called "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks. It's based on the true story of the Sarejavo Haggadah, an ancient Jewish text with a fascinating history. This prompted me to do a search about Jews in Bosnia/Serbia and about the text itself. Then I got thinking that I know little about the area where my own family is originally from. My maternal great-grandmother was from Lithuania. So I started researching the history of Lithuanian Jews. This led me to discover that the area once had over 200,000 Jews and almost ALL of them were wiped out during the Holocaust. Fortunately for me, my grandmother and her parents were already in the U.S. during the war, but I know my grandmother lost many relatives. It was devastating to read eye-witness accounts of thousands of Jews being marched to large pits where they were shot or beaten by the Nazis and their collaborators, and then buried in sand, even if they were still alive. This led me to find a Holocaust education website where I started reading detailed descriptions of what life was like in each concentration, labour and death camp in Europe during the war. Of course, I know that there have been many genocides since the Holocaust but none produce such a significant emotional response for me because, well, because these were my ancestors. Nevertheless, if you haven't yet seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, I urge you to do so. Just be prepared to be very very disturbed!

In any case, I guess my point is that modern technology is a wonderful source of information and it can encourage communication and connections between people, lessening the barriers of time and space. But I do think it is vastly overused and abused and can actually impede communication between people when it is not used appropriately. So, before whipping out your phone or Blackberry or whatever it is you have, look around you and ask yourself, "Is this an appropriate time?"