When I was about eight, an older boy in my neighborhood constructed a gadget that astounded me: a block slightly larger than a brick, with an electrical outlet on the top. He could carry his block anywhere, plug a radio into the wall-less outlet and actually power the radio. Of course, there must have been batteries inside the block, but the effect on me was nothing short of magic.
The first decade of the 21st century was gadget-crazy. All of a sudden we had GPS devices to help us navigate, whether by car or on foot deep in the wilderness. Mobile phones became the norm, not just the clunky badge of the privileged few who owned them in the 90’s. We now rely on our MP3 players, laptop computers, netbooks, PDAs, Wi-Fi, video game players and Kindles. We text, stumble, tweet, digg, post, IM and email. We meet on Facebook and LinkedIn. Connecting is almost instantaneous — it’s magical.
At the risk of being labeled a fear-monger, I have to ask: At what cost is all this magic?
I’m not quite old enough to remember the thrilling trips to the shoe store when a child could stand on a machine to see how well his feet fit into a new pair of shoes. Who dreamed that x-rays could cause harm? The tool was just so wonderful and novel.
Are our new “magical” devices causing us harm? Stay tuned for my upcoming mini-series on Technology Trade-offs. I’ll look more closely at some of the newer technologies to see how we might need to re-think how we use them, both for our own health and for that of the environment.