Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Leftists and Technology

In light of the BlogLeft Massachusetts gang, I remembered a sermon I co-preached. It was on technology. I was for it and the minister was against it. That was 17 years ago, before the Web, but I fear many liberals are still in that technology v. people trap.

As many people have noted, U.S. conservatives, organized and individual, were way ahead of us lefties in using the Net and Web for political purposes. They still are.

Back in 1989, many liberal organizations and a lot of liberal ministers and church goers honestly spoke of how dehumanizing technology can be. To many, it was are you for people or for computers?

I chaired the board of the downtown church at the time. One of my projects was moving the staff from typewriters to computers. I had owned computers for a decade, was a frequent USENET reader and contributer, and loved BBSes. I found amazing information through Veronica and Gopher.

Note: If you are too young to know any of that, I don't want to hear about it. Go to Wikipedia or a book and get smart. It's how we got to the Web. Modems were there first and for a long time.

Anyway, I knew a lot of ministers, UUA bureaucrats and social-action folk who would rant about bad computers were. My complaining to the minister made him tell me to say it from the pulpit. He scheduled a sermon where we gave our views.

I preached several times there and suspect that the pulpit is the tallest in the city. The church can seat over 900. Being up there reminds me of when I'd dive off a five-meter tower. I was way up there and felt very alone.

I told the congregants that it was their choice whether a computer robbed them of interaction with other humans or added another dimension. I said it was how you found and spread information to people you might never know or meet.

The minister stressed that he was old school (30 years my senior) and was most comfortable with what we now call wetware. He needed to see and touch people, to watch their body language and hear their tone. He was afraid of computers.

Ironically, by the time he moved on from that church, he had his first computer. I ended up being his unpaid IT consultant. I had him writing and revising sermons and jumping to research in libraries all over the globe. Omnis flux, dude.

Now I wonder whether too many leftists see blogging and Net technologies as that minister used to — inferior to human interaction, instead of a supplement.

It's one thing to be a computer user. Virtually all Gen-X and Gen-Y Americans can rip through Microsoft Office apps, use email, instant message and find their sites on the Web. So how is it that the Republicans are the ones who use these and other technologies better than we do? One answer is that being a user/luser is a hell of a lot different from understanding how to get the most from a technology, how to make it do your bidding.

We have access to the same tools. Fortunately, catching up to Web-based technologies is a matter of days or weeks and not years.

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