I was on board on the train today intending to meet some friends. Halfway through, I realised that I left my phone at home! The worst part of it all was that I did not specify where we were going to meet exactly. There was a short moment of panic with me wondering how I was going to contact them. At first I thought I could perhaps borrow a phone and give them a call. Then I realised that I did not memorise any of their numbers. So here I was on the train just hoping that we all could somehow establish a sort of telepathy to meet at the same place.
As I reflected on this, it dawned on me how reliant I had become on technology. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder about the role technology has played in the development of us as persons. To be sure, I think the rise of technology has benefitted society greatly. But I also think that to some extent technology has given us less room to practise certain virtues like commitment and patience. I recall a time when having a phone wasn’t common. Because of this, bailing out from a meeting or outing on the day itself wasn’t always easy. For one, you wouldn’t be able to tell your group of friends because they would have already left house and unless you were fine being the guy who just kept people waiting all day long wondering if you were going to show up, you’d probably have dragged yourself out to commit to what you had agreed upon earlier. In contrast, I think it’s pretty normal for people today to wake up feeling ‘sian’ (bored) to leave home and so bailing out on a previously agreed upon outing. There’s also no need to worry about whether someone’s going to be kept waiting. After all, if the outing is with a group of friends, they already have company. All you need to do is drop one of them a message via whatsapp or telegram to tell the group to go ahead.
Related to this is the issue of punctuality. I recall when trying to arrange an outing with my friends some years back. We didn’t have phones, so the best we could do was to arrange a few days ahead the place and time to meet. When we arrived, we just waited in faith that the guy was going to show up at the stated time. There was no way to check if he was going to be late or if he was still in the bus/train. We just waited until everyone arrived. Because of this, I think all of us had a sense of urgency and punctuality. We tried our best not to be late so as not to keep others clueless about our time of arrival and if we were late, we’d rush down for precisely the same reasons. Today, however, if we find ourselves late, there’s always the option of texting the group telling them to go ahead because you can meet them later on wherever they are. I must admit that in recent times, I’ve even been guilty of telling others who are late (together with me) to chill and just drop the group a message asking them to go ahead and that we’ll catch up later. The sense of committing to what was previously agreed upon and punctuality takes a back seat.
The rise of technology arguably affects our cultivation of patience as well. With technology, instantaneous results are more readily available. Whatever we had to wait for in the past, we can now receive almost immediately. One example that comes to mind might perhaps be something as simple as email or whatsapp. In the past, people had to write letters to one another. Each reply would take days. In the event that a letter got lost somewhere, one can only imagine how much longer a person had to wait. Today, with emails, we can receive a reply in a matter of minutes regardless of geographical location. What a remarkable advancement! But is it possible that together with this advancement, comes smaller platforms in which patience can be cultivated? To be clear, I won’t go so far as to say that people of the past are more patient than people today. What I am considering is whether one side effect of technological advancement is also the elimination of certain platforms to practise patience in our everyday living (granted that there’s the possibility technology also provides platforms for the cultivation of other virtues). Certainly, even if that was true, it does not invalidate the benefits of technology and the good it has contributed. But I do think it ought to cause us to think a little bit more about how such gadgets that we use every day shapes and forms us as persons. What do you think?