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Technology is a Tiger: Powerful, but Dangerous

06/20/2013 08:53 EDT | Updated 08/20/2013 05:12 EDT

I think it's time to tame the tiger. Not the tawny, majestic creature that stalks the Indian jungle and the frozen taiga of eastern Russia, beaten back from its traditional territory by voracious man, but the man-made scourge that rules the lives of 21st century urban cave-dwellers.

The tech tiger, the wizard, the miracle, conceived in-vitro by geeky young scientists and bred in captivity by dotcom wunderkinds like Bill Gates and Harvard whiz kid Mark Zuckerberg.

Full disclosure: I like technology, much of the time. It makes my life easier, some of the time. It makes work and entertainment easier, much of the time. It's cool and sleek and edgy, with the polished surfaces of its androids and tablets and other devices that dangle from us like appendages, as indispensable as fingers.

Tech's ultimate persona was Steve Jobs, with his Silicon Valley credentials, garbed in iconic black turtleneck and jeans, the very picture of cool-eyed glamour. Also the very antithesis of pre-digital 40-somethings like me, who grew up with pen and paper and a fondness for the heft of a book and the satisfying crispness of the morning newspaper.

I like the metaphor of tiger for technology, for its unbridled power and sheer force of being compels if not affection, then respect. Sinewy muscles rippling as it pads silently through shadowy forest, the physical beast prefers the mystique of solitude, whereas the tech tiger is insistently strident and much harder to ignore. Less a benevolent dictator than enigmatic Wizard of Oz, whose conjuring skills inspire awe from us bleary-eyed slack-jawed worshipers, its every new design, creation, and app brings acolytes surging to its temple: the spare, elegant Apple stores where hipsters stroke new products in a sort of religious ecstasy.

I like technology. I like its modern planes and its purveyors and its windows opening up new vistas, where the click of a mouse like a magic wand reveals a wondrous cosmos for our delight and delectation.

But in our headlong rush to seize its potential, we've grown heedless of its dangers.

Ever been with someone who's been unplugged for a while, say for a few hours or days? Like a heroin addict looking for his next fix, these empty eyed irritable junkies can't relax; their jerky movements betray their jangled nerves while they restlessly pace in search of the next hit. They make an effort but it's clear that your actual physical presence is no solace, no replacement for a smart phone or a tablet that can take them on a magical carpet ride to anywhere, or to anyone, and then to someone else still.

We've become a culture of consumers, of the next thrill, of the newest distraction, of what or who's trending now. Like the couple out for an intimate dinner; instead of being locked in rapturous gaze, each looks down into their respective laps with texting fingers replacing the natural cadence of conversation. And the obvious subtext is unspoken but plain -- hey! You're not interesting enough! Or maybe the inadequacy is mine -- sorry, I hesitate to bore you with my unadorned self.

Together, yet alone; solitary, yet not alone, we drift in the current, imagining the intimacy promised by the screen. But that elusive intimacy proves illusive, as we're swiftly sucked into the whirlpool of cyber connections, amidst the looming wreckage of flesh and blood relationships.

Tech is the new god, but cooler than any god could be. Its adherents with their touching faith mouth mantras and worship deep into the night, caressing their gadgets. This cult of true believers, like partisans of yore declare dogma and pounce on the uninitiated or the indifferent like zealous converts to a sacred cause.

Ride the tiger if you wish, but beware his brutish power. For the nature of the beast is his essential wildness and taming him will take more than bones flung carelessly in his path. It will take cunning and courage to outwit this worthy foe. But the stakes are high -- we must wrest control or be devoured by his rapacious appetite.

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