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GUEST COLUMN: How far astray will technology take us?

Paul Wheeler
Paul Wheeler

After watching the recent congressional testimony by Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, I was reminded of a quote from Voltaire: “The secret of being tiresome is in telling everything.”

As much as we would like to blame our current technological disorder on faulty protection mechanisms, the fact remains that the collective “we” have had as much to do with these failures as the network itself. In Marian Benjamin’s essay, “The value of silence,” she writes, “Our century has made a religion of communication, enshrining the idea that we ought to be constantly on tap, endlessly engaged in some or other form of exchanging information and perpetually contributing our due quotient to the sum of non-stop chatter – as if communicating with each other were a moral good, and not merely so much white noise.” How’s them apples? Novelist and activist Dave Eggers was saying much the same in his 2015 book “The Circle” when he coined the phrase “hyper-socializing.”

While our right to privacy has been part of our constitutional DNA for decades, computer and cellular technologies have continued to challenge an entirely new generation to consider the fundamental purpose and importance of privacy. Over the past 20 years, the overwhelming conclusion has been that our right to privacy has been knowingly subordinated to the prowess of a digital age offering perpetual public access and a vast, inter-connected web of convenience. The same inter-connected web that has come to rely on its users' willingness and capacity for “telling everything.” We, as users, have been more than willing to oblige.

Gandhi once said, ”There is more to life than increasing its speed.” I’ve never owned a cellphone or ever understood the primary advantage of Facebook. I’m not anti-sociaI, but I know my limitations. Social networking has always seemed to me like some overreaching version of Trivial Pursuit, some inane opportunity to let strangers and close relations alike know what you’ve had for breakfast or been wise enough to bury in the garden. I’ve taken a lot of grief for that. I’m sure I’m not alone. Of course, in the end, I suppose the choice is up to us. For better or worse, we are social animals. The comfort of companionship has always helped sustain us.

But just how far astray are we willing to let these technologies take us? At what point does a presumed blessing become a deliberate curse? It appears those questions may have already been answered.

• PAUL WHEELER, a former member of The Write Team, resides in Ottawa. "The River at Both Ends," Wheeler's most recent book of poetry, is available at Prairie Fox Books in Ottawa. He can be reached via

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