Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Invention is the Mother of Necessity

I do not doubt that the well-worn slogan "Necessity is the mother of invention" was at one time true. When the cavemen got cold, they had two options: invent fire or freeze to death.

But with the rapid growth and advancement of technology, supply no longer is the result of demand but often the cause of it. In other words, inventing stuff is easy; the challenge is to convince people of their need of it.

Consider the Internet: a technological phenomenon that I, back in the mid-nineties, dismissed as a passing fad that would be as quickly forgotten as the Slinky, has now become so intertwined with our lives that most people could not work, or even socialize, without it (no, the irony here is not lost on me).

But I would maintain that one's true happiness and fulfillment in life actually decreases as his or her level of dependence on technology increases. Whether we're talking about cell phones, laptops, or automobiles, we have allowed a myriad of components into our lives in order to "simplify" our existence, only to find that, soon afterward, we have become slaves to these harsh masters.

Sure, technology solves some problems, but they're often the very problems it helped create. Whether it's a cure for the cancer that we contracted due to the chemicals and radiation we are constantly exposed to or the Blackberry that helps us remember the various business meetings we must attend (to discuss how best to market Blackberrys), the fact is that technology's benefits are questionable at best.

Do we ever consider the adverse effects of our gadgets? For example, no one bothers to remember anyone's phone numbers anymore, since they're programmed into our cell phones (which doesn't help when your battery dies and you need to use someone else's). No one can make actual commitments to be anywhere at a specific time anymore since, after all, "I can just call you when I'm ten minutes out." College-aged kids can barely socialize face-to-face these days, since the bulk of their "personal interaction" is done via (and don't get me started on MySpace's redefinition of what a "friend" is).

We've spent so much energy asking, "Can we?" that we've forgotten to ask a more important question: "Should we?"