Approaching Thanksgiving, my thoughts turn to those things for which I am (or should be) thankful. The problem is—some things I should be grateful for, I’m too close to see. I’m so close to the trees—forget the forest: I’ve got bark up my nose! So what do I take for granted?
Within my lifetime, we’ve gone from telephones sharing connections (called, “party lines”), with dialing an operator for long distance, eventually “411” for information, and long-distance rates, to disconnected mobile phones with no extra charges for calling anywhere in the United States. Our phones show caller I.D.s, have built-in voicemail, and tracking timers.
Ten years ago, no one had a “smart-phone”—actually a mini-computer with a color screen in a palm-size package. Smartphones not only allow us to call (the least of our interests), but enable us to connect with others through “social media” (an entirely heretofore unheard of category)—email, texting, Tweeting, Facebook, Instagram, and other means I’ve not really employed. Our “phones” in our pockets have the ability to access instantly more information than what once could be stored in our county library. They provide weather updates, allow us to read digital books (even the Bible!), keep track of our expenses, listen to tens of thousands of songs, organize and plan our days with calendars and project planners, take pictures and movies, and even watch videos play games.
From our computers or phones or (iPads) we can shop, compare, read reviews, and purchase nearly anything at all, and have it delivered within a few days to our doorstep—often for less than going to a brick and mortar store. Not only that, but I can buy nearly anything from anyone in the world, whether new or used, and have it in my hands in a short time.
These phones, computers and pads connect wirelessly to the “internet” with unseen radio waves (WiFi in an immediate vicinity, and LTE or 4G in a broader location). What three decades ago required an initial connection that was deliberate, clumsy, annoying, loud and irritating, today is seamless, quiet and instant. We rarely give it any thought unless it is slow or acts up.
Not very long ago, in order to determine what was happening inside our bodies, we would submit to “exploratory surgery”—actually cutting into a person to look around and investigate possible reasons for unexplainable health problems. Today, with the advent of the MRI and CatScans, we simply take pictures of our insides, revealing cross-sections of our bodies a few centimeters at a time. The advances in medical technology has pushed our expected lifespan from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties.
Today we test to identify relationships through DNA, and are sequencing and mapping the human genome—we’re unlocking who we are and why we are the way we are.
Years ago, surgery resulted in thick scars and long hospital stays; today we’re up on our feet minutes after the procedure, home shortly, with barely visible scarring.
We routinely transplant organs—even hearts—and no longer are surprised and full of wonder that recipients have a new lease on life.
Our cars are more sophisticated, better running, safer, faster, more reliable with better gas mileage and options for alternative fueling (think: electric!).
Our televisions are thin, bursting with sharp definition and bright colors. The old boxes and tubes are dead, and wafer thin is coming. The age of four to six channels is gone, and hundreds are at the tip of our fingers and remotes.
Video games are no longer like bad cartoons and clunky interactions, but have a realism that transports us into the storyline. In fact, some actually are immersive, captivating our senses with glasses and earbuds, tracking our eyes and allowing us to become one with the experience.
Forget VHS tapes and DVDs. Think BluRay, 4K, and downloads.
Forget the library and card catalogue indexed to the Dewey Decimal System. Think Google.
Forget newspapers, whether local or USA Today. Think thousands of delivery systems for information and news (and even fake news).
Forget subscriptions to magazines and hardback books. Think Kindle and digital eBooks and pdfs.
Forget foldable maps and directions scribbled on the back of a scrap of an envelope. Think Garmin, or Google Maps, or Siri directions.
Our watches no longer just tell time—whether by analogue or digitally. Now, they display information, have customizable faces, connect to our mobile phones, check our heart rate, buzz us with alarms, and assist us with workouts.
We are on the cusp of widely using other developing technologies: self-driving cars, facial recognition, speech recognition (e.g. not just speech to text, but computers which understand your everyday language and can follow directions). “Hey Siri! Hey Alexa! Hey Google!”—digital genies who respond to our wishes as their commands.
Are there problems and challenges? Absolutely
√Islamic terrorism has taken root and strikes often.
√Digital distractions flood our lives and compete for our attention so that we neglect what is clearly important—real face to face relationships, including our relationship with God. Disconnecting with the digital world, so that we are not immediately available to everyone is a challenge. The standard one expert advocates seems impossible: we turn off our computers and phones one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year. It is ironic that we didn’t even know about or need or experience ten years ago we find essential today.
√The flood of information requires a level of discernment that few of us are willing to develop and exercise, leaving us vulnerable to propaganda and “fake news.”
√What use to be limited to an annual Sears Christmas Catalogue we are exposed to daily—the constant barrage of sales and pitches feeding our discontent with what we have and inflaming our desire to have what we don’t have.
Life has transformed faster in the past ten years than in the past thirty before. Life in 1917 is a universe away from life in 2017, and one wonders what life will be like in 2027, only ten years from now.
Talking to our computers may displace typing on keyboards. We may be routinely driven to work by our driverless cars. Our life expectancy may rise another ten years. The lines between the digital and the real may blur and become difficult to distinguish.
Cash may be going away. Folded dollars and jangling coins may be replaced sooner than we think with a single card or a chip embedded in our skin. (Haven’t I read about such a thing from some ancient source?)
We live in exciting times. Opportunities are myriad, and God has us here “for such a time as this.” He’s not surprised, has seen it coming from omnipresent eyes, and expects us to be optimistic, outspoken with our faith, and unswerving in our biblical convictions. We must think well and live better.
For all the challenges, I for one am very thankful to live when we’re living, and see what we’re seeing.
So, what am I missing?