I like technology. I'm using some right now, actually. I'm writing a blog post on a computer, and it doesn't get more technological than that on a sheep farm. I also enjoy my home's electricity, my combustion-engine truck, heated water buckets, my refrigerator and the hundreds of other inventions and advances that make my life easier. They're useful tools. I applaud them.
However, I am starting to slow my clapping down to a suspicious drumbeat. Things are getting out of hand. Between my growing addiction to wireless internet, smart phones, computers, iPads, video games and the nonstop plethora of other gadgets being shoved down our throats: I am getting weary. I live in a house where my phone is both my alarm clock and my mail carrier. I can do my job (all eight hours of my workday) without leaving a 4x4' space. There's a machine here that does my dishes. Another has a program does my taxes. I am fully capable of doing small-scale chores and simple math: and yet I am drawn to the easiest way out of the deal. I don't like this about myself.
I live and work on a small farm. Now, when I say small I mean it. Cold Antler Farm is six and a half acres with a 1,100-square-foot farmhouse. I drive a rusted 10-year-old Ford pickup truck. I own eight sheep and a chicken coop. I raised my pork one pig at a time. I know my geese on a first-name basis. This is not a large operation by any means and yet the life I have been training myself for has been incredibly physical. Even with such a small amount of land and animals: twice a day I am outside, sweating, hauling hay and water, noticing the changes in life and nature. It's turned me into a seasonal runner, a full-time observer, and the occasional victim. It's also changed how I view the role of technology in my life.
I want less.
There has to be a limit on the amount of technology we allow into our lives. If not, we are destined to fall into pathetic cultural entropy. What was once innovation has become a crutch. What was once novelty has become addiction. We are already acting as if we are handicapped. For year's we've been letting machines do everything from washing a single person's dishes to opening garage doors for people with working arms and legs. But now we have cell phones that give us directions, download audio books, send emails, and soon, will act as our credit cards. There's no reason to ask a person for directions, go to the library, send a letter, or go into actual stores. It may seem like the simulacrum of progress, but I disagree. Instead it is creating a socially, physically, and dare I say it: emotionally retarded society.
Folks seem to have lost a lot of the ability to process and interact. I see it in the grocery store, in company meetings, and in parking lots. Public places are becoming places where the public has headphones on and angrily shuffle about from one destination to the other without so much as a wave to the other people they pass. I know folks who keep in touch with friends across the street online. I have seen friends of mine say and write things online they would never say in the etiquette of face-to-face interaction.
This is not progress. We've surpassed good work. We are starting to make human beings obsolete. Taking away human jobs for the sake of invention is not progress. Making people useless in our society is not something to be commended because it comes in a shiny black box you recharge twice a day. Having an automated robotic society running on fossil fuels or coal-fired electricity plants is also not Progress. I don't want to live in a laborless, atomized, assembly-line world. Call me crazy, but I would rather see a future where people are of use. I want to know craftsmen, farmers, educators, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, storytellers, firefighters, pastors, salesmen, athletes and artists. I want to hear music out of wood, strings, metal, skins, breath and peoples' hands -- not from headphones on an MP3 player. I want to walk across the street and talk to my neighbor about the weather and call another in an emergency. I want the skills and community back that buttons are taking away from me.
I think we've gotten so lost in the addiction of gadgets and innovation, drunk on what we can invent for the rush of it. A few weeks ago a robot that understood human conversation defeated every human contestant on Jeopardy. There is serious discussion by some pretty damn reputable people that the plotline from Battlestar Galactica is a scientific possibility. We already have created machines that understand and interact with humans. These robots are not curing cancer or handing out Malaria nets. They are outsmarting us on cable quiz shows. This is not noble work to me. This is an insult: a waste of resources and money
I have no idea if Cyclons are are science fiction or fate. Like I said, I'm a 28-year-old sheep farmer, I don't claim to understand the proper use of humanized robots. But what the hell. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggesting if there's a chance they could take over the world we should probably stop building them and start building greenhouses instead. We have people to feed.
I hope for a change in how we see technology. I'm not a Luddite. I don't want innovation to fade away. But I don't see the point of a world where the average person isn't useful unless they understand HTML 5. I do see a point where hard work, everyday dedication, and the honesty of craft, art, labor, and education are what drive us into a useful and co-dependant future.
So put down your iPad and pick up a shovel. I'm not saying you should throw it away, or cancel your Hulu subscription, just stop for a while. Go outside and work on your lawn. Take your kids to the park. Leave it to your newspaper or a friend's recommendation to find a restaurant in Portland. Jog around the block. Plant a garden. Invite your neighbors over for dinner. Join a book club. Throw a tennis ball for your dog. Do anything that involves sweating without a touch screen out-of-doors. You don't need to live on a small farm to notice the value of physical effort and interaction with things that bleed. But I am worried pretty soon the only people who do notice, will be those of us with hay to move around and lambs on the way. As far as I know, there isn't an iPhone app for how to turn an inverted lamb around in a sheep's uterus. For the love of god, I hope there never is.