By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Program Director, Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University
Have you tried to live without your iPhone or cell phone for a day? A week? Two weeks? Can you imagine leaving your cell phone at home, cut off, and drive away to the coffee shop to meet some friends, to the hardware store, or to the grocery store? How does this make you feel?
My granddaughters told me that they use their cell phones to stay in touch with their friends, and they instant message or text others over 300 times each day. Have you gone out to dinner with your friends or spouse and seen a family of four or a couple on a date sitting at the table, each texting or checking email? I have. I suspect you have.
Has that person been you? When we go to dinner, we routinely turn the sound off of the iPhone or turn it off. I place my phone in my coat pocket. My wife’s cell phone is in her purse. It ,too, is turned off, lest her brother text or call her to ask some silly question like what is the weather like in Virginia or to tell us what his two cats have done today, lying around in the sun and doing nothing.
I tried an experiment not too long ago. I did not tell my wife what I was about to do. I left my iPhone at home when I went to the gym, to get coffee or to the hardware store. On the second day of my experiment, she asked me where the cell phone was. It is usually beside us in the Jeep next to the gears and storage compartment. When I told her, she almost panicked and said we had to turn around and go home. We were driving to the post office three miles away from the house. My explanation was not satisfactory. She was not very happy without a cell phone. So she turned on her phone just in case we had an accident or saw an accident.
This lasted almost three weeks. Yes. I drove around town without a cell phone for three weeks. What did it do to my brain? Well, it was a mild panic at first. I felt as if I had lost some part of my identity, some part of my body, or some safety net. I needed that safety net, I thought.
Did I? It turns out that I did. The experiment gave me the one non-statistical qualitative data point that I needed. I was hooked on technology, as I had never been hooked before.
The social life of information had emerged as a real, new normal.
I was shocked at myself. I do not smoke and never have. Yet, I felt a similar sense of loss or addiction to today’s electronic drug of choice, my smartphone. I tried to be a Luddite like those who at the dawn of the Industrial Age. In the late 1600s, London workers destroyed the new technology of sawmills that threatened to destroy a centuries-old way of work and life. Then in early 1800, the textile workers destroyed the machines of textile factories in Nottingham. This last group became known as the Luddites, only because their rebel leader, Captain Ludd, led the riots against the coming of the machine age.
I was no Luddite. But, it did get me thinking how we have evolved since the 1960s when computer technology started to dominate the workplace and in the 1980s, the home and individual lives.
In our lifetime, we have seen the same Luddite mentality against what has been called the machine that changed the world. That machine is the computer. I use a video in my logistics classes to show how just in the 1960s one man said that computers would force him into a life of crime to feed his family if computers are allowed into the workplace.
The Luddites faded, but the concept of mindless approach toward keeping current technology without change continued. It still does today. With the rise of the Industrial Age, we moved about as quietly into the computer age, e-commerce age, the information age, and whatever our ‘age’ is today. Maybe it is the ‘texting age.’
Our living standards have risen steadily, reaching new salary and prosperity levels beyond anyone’s imagination during the Industrial Age. Undoubtedly, even many Luddites and children of Luddites shared the benefits of emerging technology.
Today, this techno-rebel story has yet to unfold. Or has it?
I heard on a television program the other night about a town in West Virginia called Green Bank where cell phones, wifi, remote controls and microwave ovens are banned. This is not a Luddite revolution but one of necessity as the equipment used by the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory is sensitive to electronic interference. The people who live around that town seem content to walk to a person’s house to talk to them, not use their iPhone or text or instant messaging.
Are there any Luddites today, those people shunning the use of this instant, ubiquitous communication we see everywhere? It does not appear to be there. People who have tried not to use their instant communication devices seem to suffer, like some addict giving up their drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.
We read about smart cars being tested today and coming soon. Some cars can even park themselves. We have new communication systems that talk to you as you enter your home, turning on lights, the TV or the coffee pot.
Technology is everywhere today. What jobs are available where the use of an iPhone is not part of the job or used in some way, or where a laptop or tablet is providing real-time display of information? When we watch football on television, the coaches and players on the sidelines are holding iPads with football plays or they are replaying a recent part of the game to see what mistake happened.
I spoke to a group of high school seniors about this instant communication and how they use it in classroom and outside classes. It appears that the students have their personal iPhones turned on all the time in the classroom. Their laptops have replaced the paper textbooks, as well as notebook paper and pens. Some students admitted that they did not have a paper notebook. If they want to take notes, they talk into their iPhones, type notes in iPhone notepads or type notes on their laptops.
The Luddites have gone the way of others who eventually totally embraced a new social life of information and a new social life of technology. We have emerged as a new technology savvy consumer of communications devices. We are today true multi-taskers thanks to such smart technology. No, I do not want to live without my iPhone any more than I want to hitch up the horse and buggy to drive to town to buy groceries. Luddites are gone. It was an interesting phase of the Industrial Revolution, but we do live in a technology world where we can even go to class on smartphone or laptop sitting on top of a mountain far from the maddening crowd of a face-to-face classroom. The social life of the information age is upon us and defines us today. What will tomorrow’s technology bring?
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is the program director for Government Contracts and Acquisition at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.