Watching a "Frontline" TV show about technology and how it is changing the ways in which people live, I found myself tensing up. Tense about the fact that fewer people read as technology advances; tense about the fact that soldiers in Colorado could use joy sticks to kill people a half a world away and be home for dinner with their families on that same day ... a fact that stressed them out as well; tense about the fact that fewer and fewer people could use written communication to transmit any but shorter bursts of thought ....
I was tensing up because, I suppose, change was in the wind. What, I wondered tartly, would all these people do when the electricity was not available? Would they be able to find their ass with both hands? And if, as many of those interviewed admitted, they spent gobs of time in a virtual reality, when would they ever get laid?
I could feel the tension. It was nothing I couldn't cope with, but I could feel myself being highly skeptical.
Highly skeptical right up until the moment when one analyst, a quiet-spoken woman who seemed to have her head screwed on the right way noticed aloud, approximately, "technology challenges us to express our human values. But before we express them, we have to know what they are. And it's not easy."
And with those words, the tension was wiped out as surely as air can be let out of a balloon. The important stuff was not being erased -- it was just being challenged from another direction. There might be new and improved ways to ignore what was important but the immemorial potential to discover what was important remained unscathed.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not about to go out and get a hundred new gadgets or learn how to kill people in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but I do feel somewhat more relaxed about the distances and intimacies that simply require a newly-configured effort.