Musings on Communication and Technology

Recently during "girl's day" with my mom - my mom made a comment that made me take a second take about technology. I was texting on my iphone and she tsked under her breath and said; "People don't talk anymore, it's all text this and email that, soon language will be obsolete!" My first instinct was rebuttal, after all email, texting and cell phones all facilitate communication. But she had a point, communication, as she knew it back when she was my age is going the way of dinosaurs. Instead of simply writing a letter or speaking to someone in person, many people prefer facilitation with technology.

All during this week, I have been seeing reminders that communication is powering ever new and faster technology while leaving technical carnage in its wake. Pay phones booths with the pay phones ripped out and discarded, corded telephones being thrown away, floppy disks and typewriters being recycled because they are no longer the most efficient devices.

During the Academy move to Golden Gate park, staff has helped the internal Greenteam recycle a quarter ton of e-waste at Green Citizen. Green Citizen is a company that recycles computers and e-waste at a small cost so that electronic components don't end up in landfills. What astonished me when sorting through the recycling was that the items that were being recycled were mainly data storage devices. Floppy disks, slides and CDs stacked up by the thousands. Often I don't think about the technology that has seamlessly molded into my life but in this move, I have thought a lot about how that technology has created a great deal of waste. Companies and individuals are now seeking out more responsible ways of recycling but much of it still ends up in landfills.

In the need to keep up with data storage, archives at the Academy have turned from slides to digital scanning, GPS mapping has replaced paper topography, and Skype is keeping researchers in touch rather than phones. It is so important in research to be able to communicate effectively in the remote field areas as well as with colleagues all over the world. Technology is also growing exponentially. In my lifetime alone, I have seen the Internet created, email, cordless phones, mobile phones and GPS. It is an incredible communication age and how we interact is being re-defined but at what cost? Academy policy over the last decade has been to find ways to either donate computers and technology to third world countries or find means to recycle them here. Researchers have seen first hand where electronics and e-waste can end up and what a horrible impact it can have on the bio-diverse environments.

There is a great detriment to faster and expanding communication. While younger generations excel with the technology, older generations are being alienated with technology that seems foreign. As well, the need and demand for better and faster technology creates a pile of obsolete devices and adds to the environmental crisis. This week one comment gave me pause and really made me reconsider if all this technology is a good thing. I don't have an answer but in my concern for the environment - musing over technology this week has made me reconsider if the need for instant communication outweighs its negative waste impact...


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