Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Technology to Tradition: How We React to Change

I love when existing technology gets a new update. For instance, software like Microsoft Word or a social media platform like Facebook come out with a new version. New models of iPhones, microwaves, satellite/cable system updates, cars, or video game system controllers all attempt to improve upon the previous, while at the same time requiring the user to change their habits to accomodate to the new.

In fact, at work yesterday we found out one of our databases (for student and contact records) had been updated and the interface was much different. The effect was a little bit of slowing down in efficiency because now we had to "find" where everything was all over again. One change was even a major improvement because you had to confirm the changes to save (so no accidental changes that incorrectly overwrote data), but to figure out how to do this took a few clicks and precious seconds! 




Whenever change happens people respond in one of three ways: 

1) They complain or resist the change (wishing for the old Facebook News Feed each)

2) They embrace or love the change (getting the Swype function on a phone for texting)

3) They are indifferent to the change (learning the programming on a new microwave when I probably didn't really know the old programming anyway!)



A theory I have is that how we react to these changes actually shows a lot about how people approach life. While we all know that life updates and changes over time, some of us resist it, wishing for the good old days, while others push hard into the change, wanting to improve the way things are. Dare I say a lot of the differences between conservatives and liberals politically have to do with this? But I digress...

We all agree: change occurs. 

There are things that change for the better, and others for the worse, in most of our opinions. Of course we are not unanimous in our thinking, collectively, of what is better or worse about a technology upgrade (or any other change!). 

Let me cite an example. I personally love the new timeline and page for people on Facebook. Others I know do not. I probably don't need to say anything else on this topic because you are already either agreeing or disagreeing with me! This is my point!

I don't think one way or the other is a better approach to change. I'm not advocating all people embrace new things the way I know I tend to do (unless its the iPad, still not on-board that phenomenon) because there is definitely a need for caution as we move forward. Look at the new area of fraud called identity theft and all the devastation is has created in people's lives. The Internet is a great example of how we move forward and push to new ideas (Apple, Amazon, Google are great companies for this) but also have to check ourselves on this technology to ensure we aren't reckless or stupid in the changes. We need security on our personal information!

Another area of caution amongst the excitement of change is information: online and digital technology. It is easier than ever to "publish" material through tweets, self-publishing companies, ebooks, and blogs. Access to information has never been as available as it is now. 

Ease of access is a great thing! I cannot tell you how many times when I was writing a paper late at night for a seminary class I was thankful to have access to databases online through the school's library portal, or even grateful for Google Books

Yet, we must also learn to be discerning and cautious in our approach to this change. The memes on Facebook and Google+ may be catchy, but are they correct or coherent? Wikipedia is great to learn 2 cents worth on a subject, but from middle school onward it must not be cited as source material. Information must be verified. Breaking news through Twitter may actually be false! A recent study shows 49.1% of Twitter users say they have heard some form of breaking news which ended up being false. Look at all the "information" available on the web to support competing and contradictory claims on any political topic: environment, economy, religion, philosophy, social justice, foreign affairs, or even sports.

What is important about change: It happens and it is inevitable. Technology and globalization has sped up change to where it occurs daily in our lives. People split into factions quickly over whether they are for or against a new change. 

Are we self-aware on how we initially react to new technology or change? Do our initial reactions control us, or are we able to control them? 

The new database layout at work could have been very frustrating for us all, or we could simply acknowledge that there would be some change we had to made in ourselves to adapt to the "new and improved" software. The latter option was understood, and an approach developed where we knew we would have to re-learn a bit about the database in order to get our efficiency back up to the level it was before. 

Getting a new phone or video game is the same thing. We understand and realize there is a learning process that goes along with change. 

We cannot control or prevent all change. 

We can inform change, understanding that both enthusiasm and caution are appropriate and needed responses.

What change we can control must be looked at in the same light. Are we changing just to change, or is it to improve something? What are the side effects of this change? 

Alternately, am I simply unwilling to change myself, and improvements are unwanted because of the work they cause me to learn the new, when the fact is the old way is broken? 

Awareness of our reactions, our impulses, is important in leading to productive change. Because I can tell you that what we don't want is a society that simply acts out of impulses regardless of what is ethical, moral, or beneficial. 

These little details of technology change can inform us about ourselves on societal and deeply personal matters. 

Are we willing to see them in ourselves? Are we working to solve problems and come to solutions that embrace both changing society and technology as well as understanding the foundations of all that is good and beneficial? 

My friend Steve Metro often quotes a saying about Christian denominations: "Denominations are movements of the Holy Spirit, frozen in time." I believe this is pretty accurate, and actually stems from our reactions to change. We have those times and moments when we know change needs to happen. An oppressive church, a racially-prejudiced government or society, or a broken business model all require change. So we push and break free of that system, soon to realize we now like the way things have become, and so now we don't want any more change. Yet ultimately change still occurs in all these communities, and refusing to acknowledge and adapt for them will make them just as prejudiced, oppressive, or broken as the prior ones. Christian denominations and splits are a perfect example of this phenomenon of reacting to change, although it is far from being the only area. All it takes is an opinion on how something should be done.

Is this awareness of reacting to change sinking in? Can we understand the fact that no two days are ever the same, let alone years be devoid of change?

One final illustration from my life. 

After graduating high school, I attended and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The Academy was founded in 1802 and has continuously been producing many of America's leaders ever since, in the Army as well as society at large. West Point is a very tradition-laden place. Consistency and tradition are a large part of the daily life, but there is also a continual sense of change because the world in which the Army operates, into which all the graduates go, is different. Warfare, societies, and foreign affairs are always adapting. The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrate this sharply!

Those who run West Point have to balance this fine line of tradition and relevancy in the current world. Leaders are needed who both understand the concepts but also the practicalities of Army life in our current world. The skills required for this include many that have never changed but also many that have changed. How, systematically, do you continue to do this year in and year out. Things definitely change, although many things remain the same. The dress gray uniforms can be traced back centuries, while the shorts and t-shirts used for physical training have changed (even if the colors are basically the same). Some requirements have loosened (like being able to leave base as a Plebe/Freshman) while others remain (adherence to the Cadet Honor  Code). 

Old Graduates, members of the Long Gray Line, have a saying, "The Corps has." This is short for "The Corps has gone to hell," and it is the complaints of how things have changed and cadets no longer have it as hard as they did when they were going through school. Yet, these same graduates still have deep pride and loyalty to the academy because of its place in society. Since 1802 it has not yet failed to produce world-class leaders and provide a top-notch education with few peers. I'm one of these Old Grads now. There are certainly some changes I would decry "The Corps has!" while others I understand and applaud for continuing to prepare cadets for the situations they will face in our current world.

Just as West Point has found this balance of tradition and change, so to do we need, in our own settings and dealing with our own technologies, need to remain aware of how we react to change. 

Do you embrace change or resist it? Cautious or Enthusiastic towards it? 

Are you aware of how your react, so that you are able to step back and more fully understand the navigating of life, with its constantly changing environment? Do we allow ourselves to get caught up in complaining or in-fighting over change? Or do we step back, and work through them with a clear heart and mind?

Because, I believe firmly, that when we are aware of ourselves and our approach to change, we can productively aid in the flourishing of human life. 



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