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All you folks addicted to your smartphones and tethered to the latest gadgets would do well to listen to some recent advice from the Member of Parliament for St John. According to THE NATION of Tuesday, October 23, exactly two years after her husband’s passing, Mrs Mara Thompson asked you to “ease up” on your smartphones and seek out one another for face-to-face contact. She noted: “People seem to have lost time for conversation. They have more time to BB. That has now become our native tongue. Our society seems too much to be in a rush to do everything and not talk to one another.” The question is: Are we dancing to technology’s tune or is technology dancing to ours? It seems that because technology has solved several of our problems we are ready, eager and willing to follow wherever it leads. People seem to be accepting these technologies at face value. I warned a young lady who called me a dinosaur a few months ago to be very careful whom and what she embraces. She had advised me to “embrace” the new technologies or be left behind. Take Facebook: Do we look at that critically? Or do we just say, “Oh, it’s here to help me make friends.”? Last year a friend I’ve know for umpteen years emailed inviting me to be his friend. I replied: “But I’ve been your friend for 45 years!” Facebook is not here to help you make friends. Facebook is here for you to help young Mark Zuckerberg make money! In his book Program Or Be Programmed, Douglas Rushkoff says that we need to accept that the digital world is changing our lives in ways we do not understand. It’s unlike any tool that we’ve had before. “A tool,” he writes, “like a shovel or a rake or even a steam engine pretty much sits there and does whatever it is that we made it for. Digital technology is embedded with a purpose.” Technology is mediating our interactions because it’s easier to deal with a machine than a human being. Humans are gregarious animals; we want things, money, goods and services, favours, love and attention. And that’s exactly Mrs Thompson’s point. We must assume control over the technology; it should not control us. You can turn it off, right? But you dare not. What if someone wants to talk to me? We ask the magic machine for something and it delivers. We turn to Google to give us the answers; we expect Facebook to connect us to our 538 “friends”; we may even meet our spouse “online” and fly out to San Francisco to meet him in the flesh for the first time. Never mind that he might be a serial killer. We’re constantly cajoled to share, to like, to buy and reveal things we once held private about ourselves. Apple launched the iPad3 just six months ago and before you could charge the battery three times, they presented the iPad Mini. This time next year, if not sooner, you can expect the iPad4 and hordes of slaves, with more money than they know how to use it, will sleep outside Apple stores the night before the launch. In Robert Browning’s Pied Piper, a village is overwhelmed with a problem and seeks a solution from something that it does not fully understand. Do we understand what today’s technology is for, and do we know what it wants? The answer is somewhere out there in the future. Since newspaper reporters usually only capture part of what’s said, I hope Mrs Thompson also mentioned the virtues of solitude. Too many people are afraid of a little silence. It frightens them. I hope that people – especially the youth – will be able, occasionally, to disconnect themselves from the technology around and about them. Mrs Thompson was identifying the new malady known as “nomophobia”. • Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.