Northern Colorado Business Report
“A consumer’s guide to adoption of technology, part 3”
By Kai Staats
3 June 2011

This is the third in a series in what is unfolding as a guide to the adoption of technology into one’s personal life. This is not the typical guide which compares the speed of wifi networks or the quality of LCD screens. Rather, this is a guide for you, a window to your own consumer behavior when considering new technology.

In the previous column we explored three of ten questions concerning the adoption of technology and how we, as the consumer and owner are affected by our purchase and use decisions: Does it save time? Does it provide a foundation for education, entertainment, or improved safety? How do I feel when I use this product?

Having just returned from three weeks travel and volunteer work in northern Peru, I find the next three questions invigorating:

4. Does it help me to better understand or improve myself?
5. Does it help me to better understand or to help others?
6. Does it improve my communication with others?

Because I am not fluent in Spanish, I sometimes struggled to convey to those with whom I worked more than a basic concept of the projects with which I was engaged: electrical wiring, solar PV array design, and the architectural design of an open air sanctuary and meditation center.

Sarah and I intentionally traveled without electronics save a camera and old cell phone for emergency calls. Where a 3D sketch program or electronic translator could have assisted me, when communicating with the electrician and construction engineer I was reminded of the simplicity and ease of using pen and paper, even a stick for drawing in the sand.

Not long after our return to the States, I found myself in Best Buy, my mind pondering the next three questions concerning technology products:

Does it help me to better understand or improve myself? Very few consumer electronic products satisfy this question, except possibly a digital camera and computer. Through a camera, we can see the world in a new way and express ourselves artistically. Through the use of a computer, we can expand our knowledge.

Does it help me to better understand or help others? [This question has been slightly modified from the original, as published at NCBR.] When used with discretion, televisions and computers both provide a window to a greater world, a means of virtual travel to other places and opportunity to learn about people who are different than ourselves and those around us. In this respect, yes, our understanding of one another may be improved, if that is how we use these devices. To help? It is my experience that computers do play a significant role in organizing and managing projects, in sharing information.

Does it improve my communication with others? Does a mobile phone or laptop allow us to coordinate events, stay in touch, and move through our world with relative ease? Sometimes, yes. But both have a way of causing us to be distracted when we would benefit from being focused.

I often find a state of relief, nearly bliss when I leave my phone at home or in the car for I am free of the potential of an interruption and the people I am with benefit from my full attention. I experienced this several times during our journey, both with Sarah and with those whom we met along the way—educators from Holland, climbers from Colorado, and the staff of a church and clinic in Piura.

We engaged until the embers of the fire were too low to keep us warm, until the tea in our cups ran dry, and until the conversations were simply … done. It is in my experience that only a lack of technology does enable this kind of human interaction, when face-to-face encounters unfold.

The most memorable of our journey in Peru was in a stone cabin located in a high, green valley of the Cordillera Negra. At 14,200 feet elevation nine rock climbers wore multiple layers to find warmth against the sleet outside. The fog pressing against the windows was countered only by the single kerosene lantern and shimmer of the wood burning stove.

Not for one moment did I desire a cell phone, laptop, or television. The conversations carried us into the night for no digital device could fully capture or enhance the aroma of home cooked meals over a gas stove, the mixing of four languages spoken in whispers, and the sharing of that space by people who before that day had never met. We shared what humans have experienced for tens of thousands of years—our stories.

I offer that when next you find yourself reaching for your smart phone to record the moment for Facebook, stop and consider whether you will experience that time more vividly from behind the camera, or by being fully engaged in the moment, you yourself the best recording and playback medium.