Tech Talk: avoiding total dependence on technology

While apps like Tapingo make things more convenient, Elizabeth Sallie warns against letting technology control our lives.

Elizabeth Sallie and Elizabeth Sallie

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How often have you desperately wanted that triple-shot iced caramel macchiato, but weren’t willing to wait in the line for it at the Talon? Maybe you really need a midnight snack, but Mock Rock kids are taking all the breakfast burritos.

When you’ve got a pressing homework assignment, every minute is precious. In realization of this, Bon Appétit’s new implementation of the Tapingo app aims to get you in and out of Eagle’s Nest as quickly as possible, allowing you to order and pay for your meal via your phone, only leaving you to pick up the food from any of the retail on-campus eateries.

Sounds great, right? After all, who doesn’t hate those awkward couples cuddling next to the cookies at Common Grounds?

Appreciating moments of waiting

But the more I consider the effect of technology on our lives, the more convinced I am that learning that to wait in line is a virtue.

I’ll definitely use Tapingo at some point — I have too many meetings to swear it off completely. But, I don’t think I’ll use it when I’m just grabbing a coffee. I’ve learned to value my time in lines. For me, every moment spent waiting for food is one of unique, forced peace. I’m given no choice but to slow down for five minutes. I’m forced to think about how I am, pray about the small concerns that have arisen, and make eye contact with other humans. It provides a nice break in the midst of an otherwise hectic and chaotic day.

Interacting with others in person

While the Tapingo app may make our lives more convenient, I am concerned that we will become so dependent on our smartphones that we forget how to be good humans.

In a society where the answer to most concerns is “there’s an app for that,” we are running the risk of failing to take ownership of our time and thoughts. As we prepare for another app to join the ranks already clogging our phones, perhaps we should pause and reflect on the ways in which we’re using the ones we already have. From directions to distractions to definitions, our apps can do pretty much everything. In fact, we’re able to stop trying hard to figure these out.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m the first to employ apps, critique their usability and plot ways to design them. But I think it’s critical that users continue to maintain control over their phones, instead of letting the phones win. Apps quickly go from helping us to dictating the way we live. Perhaps I’m an anomaly, but I can barely hear a question I don’t know the answer to without Googling the correct answer immediately. I can’t get anywhere without my Google Maps app. I just discovered the Shazam app this weekend — and now I can even find out a song is by Taylor Swift, even if it sounds nothing like her.

Yes, these are all helpful and informative things. For the most part, my apps serve me well. But, I’ve stopped feeling a need to think about what I can’t know. The world is at my fingertips, and I’m in danger of neglecting those closest to me. As I sat by the fountain earlier today, I watched fellow students pass by quickly. Almost half of them were alone, looking at their phones.

Again, I’m the first guilty of being totally absorbed in Twitter or a great blog post on my way to class. But it’s amazing what I can find when I look up. I’m given opportunities to greet friends with a smile. I can stop and converse about how someone’s life really is — in more than 140 characters. When I’m forced to order and pay for my food slowly, I can have conversations with the sweet ladies who work at Eagle’s. These are nice, human moments that I cherish and encourage you to seek out. Don’t let that game of Plants vs. Zombies distract you from engaging others. When you find yourself so absorbed, remember to look up.

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Tech Talk: avoiding total dependence on technology