Reality Check: How We Use Our Tools

Ongoing learning is a wonderful luxury. We can learn so much if we have the time and inclination to do so. Information is easily available and often free, especially if you don’t care about getting credit for your learning.
For that matter, lots of things are easier if you don’t care about getting credit for them, aren’t they? But that’s a topic for another day.
Personally, I’ve been learning about innovation and it’s reminded me of the importance of keeping events in perspective. Especially now, when so many lives are disrupted and people are facing difficulties they’ve never experienced before. Some are responding with fear, anger, or resentment. It can be frightening to realize that there’s much over which we have little or no control.
However, we are also living in a time when lives have been improved by remarkable innovations. It hasn’t always been this way and it’s easy to forget. Younger folks especially may not even realize that the innovations we take for granted didn’t always exist.
For example, I’m reading about those innovations in the evening by the glow of an LED light. That light costs a fraction of a dollar to run for a whole month. Think about the wonder of this for a moment. Before electric lights, reading in the evening wasn’t all that easy. If you’ve ever read by candlelight or kerosene lantern, you know what I mean.
Why does it matter? Light extends our days. Not only can we read at night, but factories can run, cars can travel, art can be created, surgeries can be performed. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have readily available artificial light.
Of course, it’s not all good news. That readily available light can also enable us to stay up all night, only to be bleary-eyed and exhausted in the morning. Without having a resting time imposed on us because the sun has gone down, we can now overwhelm ourselves by never acknowledging that it’s time to stop.
The tools themselves are inherently neither good nor evil. Whether a tool makes our lives better or worse is more determined by how we use it than by the tool itself. Take the smartphone, for example.
I’m sure you’ve seen people with heads down, scrolling, flipping, texting, with nary a glance or a word for the folks around them. Doesn’t matter whether they are surrounded by strangers, friends or family, they’re absorbed in their technology and inattentive to everything else. You could perceive that as making lives worse.
On the other hand, you may have also seen that people are now able to maintain connections with others because of those same devices. Through talk, video chat, exchanging photos and messages, we can connect in instant and personal ways. It’s not the same as being together. But it is so much better than even the best communication devices of only a few decades ago.
It’s easy to take improvements for granted while we complain and focus on the flaws. Yet, tools are just tools. It is up to the user to choose to use them in a way that makes life better.
What tools have made a significant difference in your life? (For better or for worse.)

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