computer image

Technology Tip of the Month

October, 1997: Limits of Technology


by Deborah Healey

This month's Tech Tip is a personal rumination on the nature of technology, people, and grief. Technology, particularly the Internet, brings us together in a great many ways. Mailing lists, for example, allow people in places far apart to get acquainted through mutual interests and shared ideas. Frequently heard at the TESL-L F2F (Face-to-Face) gathering at the annual TESOL convention is the comment, "It feels like we've known each other for so long"--among people who've never seen each other, but only corresponded. You might call it a throwback to the 17th century, where people developed strong friendships by exchanging letters with people they would never meet.

E-mail lets us maintain relationships over distance, too. With the mobility of many of us in English language teaching, it's not unusual to have friends we rarely see. It's much easier to jot a few quick lines on e-mail than to find a greeting card or fill a letter and mail it. Someone we haven't seen in a while posts a message on a mailing list, we e-mail a quick hello--it's a nice feeling.

E-mail also helps us hear about personal tragedies. I got the news about the death of Roy Bowers, a long-term CALL enthusiast living in Mexico with whom I'd done a presentation, over e-mail. I'm sure his widow got many messages of condolence like mine from Roy's many acquaintances and friends. I hoped that sharing my appreciation of Roy would ease her pain, as well as comfort me--as we get older, death becomes more and more personal.

roses The limits of technology, though, were obvious in a death much closer to home, that of Becca, the daughter of my friend and long-time English Language Institute colleague Eve. We are never prepared for the death of someone we care for, but an accident that takes the life of a young person just starting her journey as an independent adult hits us deep in the gut. That she was my son's age, and the second young adult child of a friend and colleague to die in as many years, made the grief even more intense.

We coped at the ELI not by sending e-mail, not by preparing 'virtual bouquets' from the florist on the Web, but by holding each other. We cried, privately and together, and hugged. We got through the beginning of term in a daze, but it was a daze filled with and comforted by touch.

I realize that my Western culture is showing in this, and that there may be cultures elsewhere in the world where touch is not part of healing. My point, though, is that the virtual world can only go so far. Our humanity is not in how much time we spend at the computer, but in how we treat those close to us. Petty squabbles seem to be part of any large group, but what counts is what happens when we really need each other. I am very happy to be part of an organization where people support--and hug-- in personal crises.

Next month I'll get back to something technical and useful, but for now, please, love your children; hold your friends.


See Other tech tips

If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009