Charles Dickens began his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with these haunting words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
Dickens was writing about the period of time before the French Revolution, but his words could also describe the emotional state I find myself in today – and much of it has to do with the vast reach of technology at my fingertips. In the old days – which weren’t very long ago – we got our news from the newspaper in the morning and the nightly news in the evening. There was little difference between news outlets except for timing and the personality of the broadcaster.
Where’s the steadying voice of Walter Cronkite, once deemed “The Most Trusted Man in America”?
Today, thanks to the power of cable and the internet, we are bombarded with news 24/7. And these new outlets are in cutthroat competition with each other for audiences, the size of which translates into revenue for the provider but confusion for the consumer. The result is overwhelm and input fatigue. Where’s the steadying voice of Walter Cronkite, once deemed “The Most Trusted Man in America”?
Take, for example, the biggest health issue of our time – especially for older people – COVID-19. One group is telling us the virus is out of control, urges us to wear masks when outside, and keep six feet away from other people. Another group insists the virus is under control, a vaccine is on the way, and you can safely send your kids to school. Who do you believe? Where’s the reliable consensus? My advice is to wear a mask and take a walk while listening to soothing music or your favorite podcast.
Personally, most of the technology easily available today through your computer or smartphone either annoys me or frightens me. Some exceptions are email, Google, and Zoom. I love email and use it to communicate with friends and family, to exchange jokes and information, and to schedule face-to-face Zoom visits.
That’s the upside of email. The downside is the blizzard of unwanted and unasked for solicitations that clutter my inbox in ever-increasing numbers. The other downside is that the world has moved on to texting and Instagram and whatever else, which don’t work for me because my eyes are too weak and my fingers too chubby to punch out a message on my iPhone.
Google, for me, is magic. Through Google, I can find out anything I want to know, like the quote I used to begin this article. However, the ease of looking things up and the loneliness and boredom of isolation can lead to googling things you don’t have a real interest in just to pass the time.
Another piece of technology that has become useful during the pandemic and beyond is Zoom. I have been to a Zoom wedding, and my wife uses Zoom for her therapy practice and to visit weekly with lifelong friends. But, while a Zoom session can bring people together, it’s only temporary; when the screen goes dark, you’re once again reminded of your isolation.
Facebook and Twitter terrify me in the age of disinformation. Both platforms have the power and promise of bringing people together in a healthy way, but they are also being used to spread deliberate falsehoods and messages of hate.
During times of isolation, we are all slowly becoming more and more vulnerable to such messaging. I applaud efforts by these tech giants to police their content without editing or bias and realize it’s a thin line they’re walking. Additionally, privacy issues lurk; every keystroke is potentially being captured and used in ways beyond our intentions.
So how do we use technology to navigate the age of COVID-19? First, use your computer and cellphone to enhance your life; do not allow them to become your life. Use them, don’t let them use you. Second, stay positive and don’t believe everything you read. And finally, stay busy and trust that this will end.