Sarah Ferge: Technology doesn't have to take over

6:06 PM, Mar. 5, 2013  |  Comments

Maybe it's Ray Bradbury, fresh in my mind from my fifth hour literature class. Bradbury, who imagines a futuristic home with a fully automated kitchen that whips up fresh eggs and bacon every morning, a home armed with robotic cleaning mice that attack any fleck of filth that dares invade their territory.

Amazing technology any busy mom today would snap up faster than she can pour the cereal.


But it's the Voice in Bradbury's house that eerily whispers as I gaze, unsettled, into the eye of our new XBox Kinect. In his story, the Voice awakens the family each day, reminds them of important anniversaries, informs and entertains.

Standing in my basement, I try to silence the creeping whisper while watching the Eye scan the length of my arms and the position of my legs, depicting my movements on the screen. I cock my fists and release a fury of jabs and hooks. Twenty seconds later, the indifferent Eye sees me KO my faceless opponent in HD precision.

In a strangely Terminator moment, my raised fists mirrored in my avatar, I realize I and the machine are one.

That was Christmas. After a wonderful day of faith and family, my husband stood up, gathered the children 'round, and unleashed the XBox. Pillow pets and horsey stencils were dust in the wind of three screaming children flying down the basement stairs, ravenous to gorge on their first game console experience.

I lingered. Scattered in the children's wake were boldly colored Nativities featuring both Jesus and Santa, an unfinished Star Wars puzzle, a partially knitted butterfly, all unceremoniously abandoned for more evolved bells and whistles.

Despite the ecstatic cheering that echoed from below, I mourned the play interrupted. After years of vigilance, my solo campaign to preserve a video-game-free environment was over.

Now, I'm no Anti-Gaming Nazi. I eagerly gobbled power pellets and saved the princess from a deranged barrel-throwing gorilla in the '80s. But I wanted my children to grow up creating their entertainment, not being fed entertainment.

I wanted to wait.

Waiting, however, is not an innate American virtue. It seems so, well, un-American. We simply have no time to wait. Or need to wait, for that matter. A ceaselessly rebooting menu of new technology, each faster than the last, seems bent on ridding the world of wait.

Perhaps an unintended consequence, however, is that by constantly striving to live faster, we have accelerated an old human weakness: impatience. The speeding up of technology has meant the speeding up of people, trying to keep up with the machines.

Smartphones, tablets, GPS ... (Oh my. Mr. Bradbury, was that Siri's voice in your talking house?)

Bradbury's high-tech home appears, at first, to solve problems. Can't be bothered to remember your son's birthday? The Voice will remind you. Don't have time for inspiration? The Voice will choose a daily poem for you.

But if you know Bradbury, you know his story doesn't end well. The talking house burns to the ground in an astonishingly efficient fire, leaving behind only the Voice rambling at smoke and sunshine, as all humanity is dead, a victim of the very technology it worshipped.

Tech-obsession may not destroy the world, but it could downgrade our souls. If we were to simply wait, we might see a slow but steady blurring of the line between what is human and what is not.

The merging of man and machine is no longer science fiction. The Bluetooth Glove allows you to talk directly into your pinkie in the universal I'm-talking-on-the-phone gesture. Google Glass blurs the line even further by using eye movements to text, take pictures or, if you must, look up your son's birthday.

When mind-blowing iRobots send us into a techno-fugue, maybe it's time to wait and ask some questions. What's the end game? Mind-numbing enslavement to the latest and greatest? What original insight, what fresh perspective lies buried beneath our precious gigabytes?

I'll admit, I may sound a bit techno-phobic. I suppose it's possible I really should teach more informational text in my literature classes, thereby dulling my and my students' fertile imaginations.

After all, despite my fears of a complete XBox takeover, its arrival caused barely a ripple in our family rhythms after that first day. My oldest child's favorite activity is still curling up in her warm bed with a good book (or three). My son still fanatically prefers real basketball to virtual. And my youngest continues to do her part to keep the paper industry and Crayola in business.

But I think that just might have something to do with the waiting in the first place. And while I wait, I'm not taking any chances.

The Eye in the basement is safely turned around, with a grand view of the wall behind it.

- Sarah Ferge is a Menasha resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. She can be reached at

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