Is technology our friend or foe? To me this is like asking, is food good or bad for us? Generally yes it is, sustenance is essential, but it also depends on what we are eating, how it is produced, frequency, cultural context, lifestyle, and more. Technology depends entirely on one’s relationship to it and how it is used. It is inert in itself, as it exists only in the context of our use.
Outside of making a value judgment, I think it is impossible to separate humankind from our use of technology. Technology is the modification of the environment in order to achieve some goal. Without forging tools of various types, throughout time, we would not have survived.
Fire, agriculture, computers, clothing, currency, even recipes, language, and culture, are all forms of technology. We share the planet with other species who also use it to survive and to thrive. Examples include nesting and hive making, ants growing fungus to provide for grubs that they feed off of, elephants communicating by sending and receiving stomping vibrations through the ground with their giant sensitive feet, and apes using thin branches to extract termites. Researchers have even spotted great apes sharpening sticks for hunting and attacking rivals.
So if technology is a foe, then an essential part of our nature and many other animals’ nature is also a foe. I do not choose to ascribe to such an “original sin” sort of view, that we are inherently flawed in our makeup. Instead we could more constructively choose to see ourselves as active and creative participants in the use of and development of technology. We can choose responsibility, forward thinking, and mastery, instead of acquiescence, complacency, and fear.
Being Friends with the Future
Some people, including some on the hippie spectrum, are against using the internet or technology, believing that it separates us from others, nature, and the “real world.” First of all, it is strange to me to arbitrarily draw the line at just new technologies, while most people continue to use and exalt older ones. Second, in my experience and for many, devices and the internet can instead bring us even closer to other people, places, opportunities, and truths.
When the telephone was first invented, many publicly opined that it would lead to the downfall of face-to-face relationships and ultimately to human intimacy. In actuality it gave people the ability to talk to one another at a moment’s impulse, to reach out at any hour to share close feelings, brilliant ideas, and to collaborate.
Printing books was also decried as a tragic loss of the old ways by those who believed that people would lose their memory skills and ability to tell stories. On the contrary, widespread printing of books eventually greatly multiplied and democratized educational pursuits, the sharing of ideas, and the offering of new perspectives, enjoyment, and inspiration.
Remember when you had friends who said they would never get a cell phone? (Then that they would never get a smart phone?) What started in the mid-’80s as a $4,000 brick that allowed very few to talk for just 30 minutes while hauling around a briefcase-sized battery, now is many orders of magnitude more portable, powerful, accessible, and multifunctional. Now over six billion people on Earth have access to cell and smart phones—right in their pockets. For most people in the developing world the smart phone is their very first access to the worldwide web, allowing brand new opportunities for connection, education, creativity, entrepreneurship, and so on.
While the nature of technology is that it will always change, technology itself is obviously not a fad. The internet is not going away anytime soon. It is a language that the world now natively speaks, and a world we now naturally inhabit. Instead of fading away, it will become an even deeper part of our lives. The “internet of things” will bring new intelligence to physical objects and communication between them and the places around us. Sensors in wearable devices will monitor and improve our health and stress levels. The projection of information on heads-up displays, like the nascent Google Glass, or sophisticated holograms, will give us brand new ways to perceive and interact with the world. Willfully opting out of these things is resisting reality, and at some point is like saying it was better before the existence of electricity, books, and fire.
Instead of asking whether technology is a “friend or foe,” which could deny or damn our nature, perhaps we should be asking how to better help friends and reduce foes through the use of technology. Paraphrasing Einstein, “With our increasing ability to destroy the world comes an equal opportunity to save it.” Our culture and the choices we make, individually and collectively, are responsible for the negative effects of technology; the fault is not in the technology itself.
So let us proceed responsibly and mindfully, and be not afraid. Using tools does not necessarily make us into tools. Use what works to help you learn anything, get inspired, start a company, grow an organization, work remotely, make new friends, fall in love, start or join a community, build the future, travel, and change the world.
Christopher Kindig grew up near and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Christopher studied Psychology, and founded an online green technology company, OrganicMechanic.com. He now serves as the Business and Advertising Manager for Communities and the Fellowship for Intentional Community. Christopher loves growing, cooking, and eating fresh food, traveling, yoga, hiking, nature, good people, intellectual inquiry, stimulating conversation, and long walks, especially with his lovely wife.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I am in love with seeing the world. There is so much diversity, little differences you didn’t realize existed, and major differences which put life and history into sharper perspective. Seeing the world enriches one’s ability for understanding and appreciation. And it is a blast!
So as an investment in adventure and cultural education, before settling into a homesteading and family-building mode, my lovely wife and I decided to journey on a three-month honeymoon trip around Europe: 100 days, seven countries (10 if you count ones we traveled through), about 30 beds, and over a million cherished memories, inspired thoughts, hearty laughs, new friendships, tasty dishes, and beautiful visages.
To take this trip to ancient places, we made heavy use of modern-day technologies. In addition to portable Apple devices, we used the internet to research and plan, to read advice, and to interact in a number of online communities to scout out what we could see, who we could meet, where to stay, and how to get there.
We dove into the sharing economy, which refers to “peer-to-peer” services on the web which connect you to a good or service from another person or group instead of from a company. This wonderful evolution in technology and culture not only brings once-in-a-lifetime experiences and relationships to your fingertips, it also weaves a new fabric of trust throughout humanity. Once-strangers are now comrades in common pursuits.
We used ic.org’s communities directory to research and contact ecovillages with strong like-minded missions. There was a welcoming invitation from the Peace Factory in the small town of Monteliou, France, where they are inviting volunteers to visit or to join them. They are rehabbing an old factory to now include apartments, common areas, and luscious edible gardens. They host monthly courses over the summer and a big conference every August to teach peaceful nonviolent communication, conflict resolution, and group problem-solving skills.
We used GEN.Ecovillage.org (the Global Ecovillage Network) to get in touch with Ravenwood, an ecovillage at the base of the Alps in Ivrea, Italy. There, a positive group of people inspired by the Anastasia writings about harmonious living with the Earth have founded an ecological mountainside haven. They use solar electricity and solar water heating, drink refreshing spring water, and use composting toilets. We used a hand crank to mill flour, giddily collected wild blueberries, greens, and mushrooms from the forest, and made tinctures and delicious meals.
We used WWOOF.com (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and specifically wwoof.it/en/, to connect to an organic winery and olive orchard called Podere Vallari in a small town called Riparbella, in the Tuscany region of Italy. We traded a few hours each weekday trimming olive trees (while listening to audiobooks!) in exchange for free room and board.
We used Couchsurfing.com to connect to natives of cities we visited, as well as transplants who fell in love with the place. This is a wonderful way to meet people who are generally open-minded, fun, and engaged in life, who share interests in traveling, learning, and exploring new cultures and experiences. We made new lifelong friends from Milan to Munich this way!
We used AirBnB.com to fill in gaps for last minute accommodations. This brilliant site allows you to rent rooms or entire apartments from people, typically at one third to one half of the going hotel rates, in prime locations! (For $25 in free credit, go to www.airbnb.com/c/ccorsaut.) We also used expedia.com, hostelbookers.com, and kayak.com to compare and book accommodations, and these sites are also options: globalfreeloaders.com, bewelcome.org, hospitalityclub, and workaway.info.
We used BlaBlaCar.com to arrange most of our rides around Europe. This is a website where you can search rides being offered and request ride alerts for specific trips and dates. You end up meeting interesting, good people to chat with on the way to your destination, all while paying typically only one third of the cost to ride the train. Carpooling is also an ecological option.
If you plan to do some hitchhiking, hitchwiki.org was recommended as a way to learn about the best spots and advice for nearly every city in Europe (and around the world). There are also peer-to-peer taxi services like Uber, Lyft, and Relay Rides, and sites to rent people’s car directly, like Getaround and Buzzcar. Some of these are only available stateside, so far.
We used FlightFox.com to help us find the best rates for airplane tickets, which were about half as much as the going rate. We used TripAdvisor.com to research which attractions in each town were the highest rated, and which restaurants were worth checking out. There is a big difference between places you want to see and tourist traps!
We also found that veteran traveler Rick Steve’s guides and website were very helpful, and that typing “what to do in _____” into YouTube will find interesting tips and historical backgrounds. For information and philosophy about traveling lightly, working remotely, and the like, I recommend the books Vagabonding by Rolf Potts and The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.
The world is brimming with experiences awaiting you. There are still secrets to learn about yourself, historical riddles to solve, foreign tastes to delight your tongue, and humorous tales of triumph that only adventuring can unveil. Get out there and soak it all up!