Babel: I am a Luddite who relies, every other moment, on technology.by Pico Iyer / April 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
I am the worst kind of modern being, though hardly an atypical one: a Luddite who relies, every other moment, on technology. I live 8,000 miles from my bosses, I communicate with my loved ones through international telephone lines and I get on a 747 every time I need to see the dentist. Yet inwardly I harbour all the superstitions which make me write (as I was trained to do) with pen and paper, turn for information to an old copy of the World Almanac instead of to the internet, and try as much as possible to live in a rural nowhere in Japan, without any means of transportation (other than my feet), or a television I can understand.
Wherein lies my doubt? In many of the obvious fears, I think: that technology, accomplishing everything so fast, can prompt us to prize speed as an end in itself, when many of the experiences I have found most precious are intimate with slowness; that the data which computers make so easily available, move us to crave information more than the capacity to make sense of it; and that the internet as an answer to loneliness may be of less use to someone who is hungry for more loneliness, and more freedom to confront what seems essential.
What I am saying is not that I don’t trust machines, but that I don’t trust myself with them; that I’m not convinced of my own ability to make the best use of my toys; and that sometimes I worry that they make the lesser parts of life seem too attractive precisely because they are so easily controlled. Of course it’s wonderful that I, and millions of others, don’t have to slave over counting up receipts, alphabetising references or calling travel agencies, and so have more time for the richer parts of life; but what concerns me is that the time I spend performing all these functions on a machine makes me less patient with questions which don’t have answers, or with activities which aren’t so neatly organised.
An example: as a writer I have found that working on a computer makes changes so easy that I am never done. The very machine which I expected to make everything go faster ends up making me a slower writer, as I switch a paragraph around and then switch it back, day after day, forever; each…