Friday, December 29, 2023

Debating Technology

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The delirious crowd counted off the waning seconds in unison.  One team sauntered off the field stunned and dejected; the other basked in the ultimate victory.  A band played in the background and thousands of jubilant souls belted out the fight song.  Players donned championship attire.  Media swarmed for interviews with the conquering heroes.  League luminaries presented the championship trophy.  Clips from the locker room conveyed the childlike joy of a group that had ascended their profession’s summit. 

This was as good as it gets – for every executive, coach, player and ardent fan.

Those were the concluding scenes of Super Bowl XXVI, a resounding 37-24 Washington dismantling of the Buffalo Bills at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It was Washington’s fourth Super Bowl appearance in 10 seasons and its third championship.  The organization was the class of professional football; its fanbase was among the largest and most passionate in professional sports. 

Much has happened in the world of Washington football in the years since that January night in 1992 – an understatement typed with palatable anger.  And so, when NFL Network recently broadcast an unabridged re-run of the game, I couldn’t help but watch, if only to remember what once was. 

The game demanded other comparisons.  NFL football, of course, is played differently now – more passing, deemphasized running and less hitting.  But the antiquated technology jumped off the screen.  The lack of high definition and limited camera angles offered a much different viewing experience.  Close plays passed without a review.  Replays lacked clarity and limitless angles.  Overall, the game seemed to have a haze over it as Canadian wildfire smoke had penetrated the Metrodome.

It wasn’t better.  It wasn’t worse.  It was just different.    

In the quiet reflection after the game ended, contemplating the differences between 1992 and 2023 were inevitable.  The “evolution” isn’t constrained to football; there were 30 years of technological growth to consider.  Phones are now all-encompassing personal communication and life-facilitating devices.  Face-to-screen time is far more common than face-to-face time.  Anxiety is up; mental health is down.  Artificial Intelligence is infiltrating our lives – first “customer support” bots, now artificial readers of college application essays and sources of music, among other more sinister uses.  Humans are no better than the machines.  Lives are carefully constructed and broadcast through social media platforms.  Photos are so filtered that if you met the person, in person, the resemblance would be distant, at best.  Eagerly published, hand-selected personal propaganda screams “Look at my perfect moment…and lament your mundane life”.  Likes and followers are oddly coveted forms social validation and misconstrued correlations to self-worth.

On the other hand, what an amazing world we occupy.  Virtual work.  Convenient contact with family and friends.  The ability to track kids!  Information access.  Greater diversity of thought.  A world with less firm boarders.  The ease with which we can do almost anything boggles the mind - especially minds (like mine) that remember when a paper map was required for road trips, new goods could be acquired only through store visits and adolescent boys had to woo adolescent girls via in-person charm or calls on her parent’s landline – both equally terrifying. 

With the Super Bowl XXVI re-run fresh in the mind, I attended a Brandi Carlile concert at Wolf Trap recently.  There was a moment where I just observed the delirious crowd – humans lost in an unplugged, live moment that required no internet connection.  I was left convinced that technological wizardry was not aiding human advancement.  But then I thought about how the tickets were acquired.  The GPS that led us care-free to the site.  The text messages that quickly brought our group together.  The communications we maintained with our kids, precariously left at home, during the evening.  The photos and videos we captured.  Much of it would have been impossible three decades ago.

Am I sold on tech?  Label me undecided.  But tech is here, for good or ill.  So, I’ll embrace it with necessary suspicion.  As the opening jingle to an old television show said, “You take the good.  You take the bad.  You take them both and there you have – The Facts of Life.”     

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