Monday, July 11, 2011

The People and the Pitcher

It is my humble opinion that every child should know Aesop's fables. For me, they left an indelible mark and they got the wheels turning that would, eventually, help me to find happiness (if not fortune) as a literary guy. Today, however, one of those fables, remembered as I watched a large crow circle the woods behind my house, helps me to finally explain how I feel about technology's place in daily lives.

In an earlier post, I talked about drawing the technological line -- the necessity of finding the place at which we decide to exclude technology from our days -- but I'm not sure I made it clear why I thought this necessary. Consider Aesop's fable of "The Crow and the Pitcher." Its moral has been delivered as "little by little does the trick" as well as "necessity is the mother of invention." In short, a thirsty crow's ingenuity saves his life. He drops pebbles into a pitcher to raise the water level so that he can drink. But it is not the moral I'm interested in -- it is the intriguing metaphoric possibility of the crow, the pitcher, the water and the pebbles.

Let's do it this way: we are the crow; the pebbles are technology; the water is what we want to get; the pitcher's walls are the boundaries of a person's life.

So, we, the crow, look at the pitcher of life. We know what we want out of it. The water can be anything you wish. It can be time with family; time to write; time to do nothing. It can be money, this water, or it can be prestige; marital happiness; an Astin Martin -- whatever it is we feel we need in life.

Like the crow, we get an idea. We need something to make these things accessible as we dip into life. Technology is where we often turn. Each bit of technology we put into our life is a pebble thrown in to the pitcher that is our life. As we drop the pebbles in, the water level rises and our parched and eager beaks come closer to being quenched. Eventually, if we use just enough pebbles, the water glistens there at the brim and we slake our thirst happily. All is good. The soul is hydrated.

We know technology is good. It saves us time. It helps us with medical diagnoses. It keeps us in touch with friends. It gets our voice out to the world.

But what if the crow had lost sight of what he was after? What if he dropped so many pebbles into the pitcher that the water sloshed over the edge and ran down into the sand at his talons? What if he became so smitten with his brilliance and with the process of attaining his goal, that the goal itself was lost?

My iPhone, for instance, can help me to make calls or to send emails from from anywhere in the world so that the time that would otherwise have been wasted as I sit waiting and waiting at the motor vehicles office can be used to get a task accomplished -- so that, when I get home, I can spend my evening reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to my seven-year-old son instead of conducting my necessary business while he watches TV. But . . . if I come home and fiddle around with games and other entertainments on the phone, I don't get my drink, do I? Technology will have pushed the water up to overflow.

If I am on Facebook all of the time, I can't enjoy a pint of Guinness and some pub grub with my good friends, though I can exchange cleverisms with them over the net for hours on end.

Here we are at balance, again, my friends.

Once, a doctor ran his hands across my neck. He raised an eyebrow. He told me he wanted me to go and have an ultrasound. I did. It turned out I had thyroid cancer. The surgeon who was to perform the thyroidectomy felt the same spot. He shook his head. He said, "I know from the ultrasound that you have nodes on your thyroid glands and I still can't feel them. I don't know how your doctor found them, but it is amazing."

When I saw my doctor again, I told him what the surgeon said. He smiled. "Chris," said, "if we don't start with our eyes and hands and minds, none of the technology in the world can save us. The day doctors can't feel sickness, the world is in trouble."

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