I played guitar at a local coffee house last night ( Hartford Coffee ) In my haste to pack up to go, I forgot my electronic guitar tuner. Last night, then, I realized how dependent I have become on the tuner. I’ve played for many decades and, until 5 years ago, tuned by ear. I’ve fallen out of habit since then because these cheap tuners are incredibly accurate. All you need to do is watch the read-out–you don’t even need to hear the guitar while tuning (one of my tuners attaches to the head of the guitar and picks up vibrations). I made it through the night, of course, but I found myself having to focus on what exactly the tuning problem was (which string or strings was out of tune, and which direction). People who don’t play stringed instruments don’t realize that even when you get the guitar tuned, it might not last for long. Even two songs later, it could require another adjustment.
My point is that I had offloaded a skill to an electronic device. This is a common phenomenon these days. A lot of us don’t know the phone numbers of our friends–no need to, with smart phones. Many of us are terrible spellers, but no problem, because the word processor will signal problems. My Google calendar and smart phone seem to organize me, rather than me organizing them. I find myself shooting out short texts and emails to get right to it, rather than calling, which requires some social graces–younger folks avoid calls like the plague, it seems. This makes me wonder whether they are thus losing some conversational skills. Robin Dunbar has researched the number of friends we have in our social group (it tends to be close to 150), but people who watch a lot of TV have fewer friends, and they might be losing the skills necessary to maintain a robust social group.
This is not a criticism of technology. It can be immensely useful. For instance, I’ve used Meetup.com to connect with folks with keen interests in photography and urban exploring, people I would never have encountered without technology. My misplaced tuner last night reminded me that we create technology but that technology also changes us, for good and bad.