Editor’s Column: Technology: tyrant or tool?

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As a member of Generation X, in our lifetime we’ve witnessed a rapid acceleration in technology that has taken us from computers that were programmed by cassette tapes and used televisions for monitors and cell phones the size of bricks, to computers in our pockets that double as phones.

Remember the trauma of missing your favorite show and knowing you’d probably never get to see it, even if you judiciously paid attention during rerun season? Or setting the VCR to record “your show” only to have a power surge that reset the timer? The horrors our children and grandchildren will never know.

I’m ridiculously grateful for a computer I can use while sitting on the couch, a phone that keeps me connected to family and friends at all times (how did our parents survive without texting?),  and now my latest addition: a smart watch.

I love gadgets, but I won’t buy them for myself. When I oohed and aahed over my uncle’s iWatch during a recent visit, my husband decided to order me a refurbished model as a belated birthday present (I’d asked, tentatively, for a robotic vacuum cleaner. Aren’t I fun? No need for flowers or chocolate here, just bring me a vacuum!)

My present arrived on Friday. The hardest part of setting it up was figuring out how to attach the band. The new trend of using pictures instead of words for instructions is not writer/editor friendly. It’s been years since I wore a watch, so getting used to having something on my arm took a day or two, but now I’m kind of at the mercy of the tiny computer on my arm, which doesn’t, oddly, include a calculator even though it bears a freakish resemblance to the Casio™  calculator watch worn by some of my super-smart classmates 35 years ago.

Who needs a calculator when you can just ask Siri? Siri, I’ve discovered, can figure percentages without using an algebraic formula. Sheesh. I could have gotten an A instead of a C+ in college algebra with Siri on my side.

It’s ironic, after years of avoiding talking into a telephone, to find myself talking to my arm like Dick Tracy. The voice-to-text option is faster than the scribbling on the tiny screen one letter at a time with my finger. I think I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: children need to learn to write in cursive and they need to learn to write with their fingers on any surface.

By far, the biggest impact this new piece of technology has made thus far is its ability to record my daily activity: heart rate, exercise time, calories burned, standing time, etc.

I’ve been slightly OCD about completing my three circles every day, to the point I ran up and down the stairs for three minutes at 10:30 p.m. the other night just to complete my exercise goal. I can even download an app to monitor my quality and quantity of sleep (not willing to review that during this phase of life).

I can see where this new technology could become a tyrant, but for now I’m choosing to see it as a tool. I tend to be goal-oriented, so having goals on my arm and reminders throughout the day is helpful. Positive feedback in the form of sparkling screens and a “job well done” affirmation help, too.

Another definite benefit? I’m not picking up my phone as often during the day, which means less “screen time” overall and less opportunity to be distracted by social media. That’s probably a benefit for a lot of us.

Now if I can just figure out how binge watching an entire season (or three) of a television program in one sitting (or one weekend) is a beneficial tool…I’ll get back to you on that right after I finish this season of Wynonna Earp.

By NIKI TURNER | niki@ht1885.com