The Compass: Are you a master or a slave?

The zombie apocalypse is upon us, but not as we had imagined it. As we hunch over our various screens, which cast an enlightening glow across our faces, opinionators lament at our enslavement to technology. If you can bear the anxiety, can you consider a life without your gadgets?

Steve Bradley got my attention when he jumped on the soapbox with his February blog post, ‘Shut up and listen!’. Reminding us all very aptly of the power of primary experience in the development of crafty communicators, he touched on a very real, very recent battle of mine.

Fellow H+Kers may recognise me from the Hospitality team, but prior to this I was travelling and returned with only a nifty little Nokia to hand -- no smarty pants phone for me! Living ‘sans smartphone’ was an experience that seemed to trigger shocked gasps and sometimes even intense debate: but how can you get by without a smartphone?

Well, as I fell into London life, I had plenty of time to read, reflect and observe my commuting companions. That’s an hour and a half, five days a week to process my surroundings – I felt pretty zen. I enjoyed interacting with people who crossed my path and found that I was more present and focused during the day, thanks to my use of social media being limited to the evenings, on my laptop.

There were times when I got hopelessly lost and secretly wished I had a GoogleMaps app, but in the process of reorienting myself, I would discover new places – and a new confidence in my own abilities. You could call it a modern day adventure, but it pales to insignificance in light of the Oscar nominated movie, ‘Embrace of the Serpent’. This violent, psychedelic thriller set in the early 20th century weaves together the stories of two pioneering explorers as they journey deep into the Amazon rainforest and meet a tribal shaman.

So what? Apart from being a fascinating insight into the terrible plight of indigenous Amazonian tribes, one of the key moments centres on a tribal chief who won’t return the explorer, Theo’s, compass. Traditionally, the tribe used the stars to navigate their way through the forest. Theo desperately wants his compass back so not to wipeout this local knowledge and skill. Strikingly, Theo’s indigenous companion retorts, “You cannot forbid them to learn.”

For better or worse, you cannot unlearn knowledge – but we can shape its implications and applications. Technology is a beacon for human progression and the most natural thing in the world is to apply our curiosity and indulge in its developments. Despite fighting an idealistic battle against the potentially soul-sucking smartphone, I eventually picked up my pom-poms and joined the smarty-pants squad.

Now, I am living in the fast lane thanks to a life streamlined by my phone: accessing emails 24/7, instantly uploading city snaps, constantly on the ball with social plans and current affairs. The world is literally in the palm of my hand. But like most other people, I am treading a fine line. Digital detoxes are trendy for good reason, but a polarized debate on the healthy use of technology is not useful.

To truly master the technologies of our time, we must evolve with them. The only option is to strike a balance and use technology to complement our human abilities – as Steve said, this can be as simple as using our ears! The discovery of Theo’s compass didn’t have to mean the destruction of a way of life and we don’t have to subscribe to a zombie apocalypse. We have a choice: to be the master, or the slave?

By Alice Hodgson

H+K Admin

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search