ROSE NOLEN: Technology has taken away our time to contemplate

Sunday, April 3, 2011 | 6:48 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — I think the thing called "Yankee ingenuity" isn’t what it used to be.

People like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Bell and Walt Disney have been replaced by technocrats who turn out new, advanced products every year.

But it seems to me, ordinary people have become a lot less creative and inventive than they once were. It is to the point that when someone proposes or introduces a new idea, I think about awarding them a medal. But, of course, when someone does come up with a new idea, hundreds of others climb on the bandwagon.

Another thinning breed of folks that I've been thinking about and discussing with  friends is all the people who once lived in our hometown and who not only loved the community and worked hard to preserve it but also had the kind of willing spirits that made them unique human beings. Most of them were business people whose reputations for special customer service were known throughout the area.

Some believe those kind of people are still around but our lifestyles are so radically changed that they rarely have the opportunity to express the same qualities. I think that it may be true that the individuals we were discussing lived at a time when it was not uncommon for people to create opportunities in which they could engage in random acts of kindness, friendship and philanthropy.

If my mother were around today she would suggest that we spend too much time being entertained instead of exercising our brains constructively.  I remember once when my teenage nephew was stretched on a bench outside, staring up at the sky, and his mother interrupted him. My mother asked her if the world was no longer safe for daydreaming?

She insisted that wonderful things sometimes came out of that experience. Probably the Wright Brothers were not watching a football game when they decided they wanted to fly, and I doubt that Johannes Gutenberg got the idea for a printing press while brandishing a sword during a violent war game.

We spend an enormous amount of time with our toys. Some people spend at least five hours every night watching television. Others spend an equal amount of time on their computers or playing video games. It’s hard to think about building a better mousetrap with those kinds of distractions.

It seems like a long time ago when people sat around thinking up a new recipe for Sunday dinner or a new way to protect the garden vegetables from the squirrels. Now everyone seems to be watching something or listening to someone or answering a message.

The probability of anyone just sitting still dealing with ideas, thoughts or possibilities going on in their own heads is a rarity. At any given moment everyone is busy doing something, and we’ve come to accept that as a good thing. For most people,  sitting around thinking is a waste of time. That’s an activity for writers and other ne’er-do-wells to practice.

Actually, contemplation is not a bad thing. Personally, I think the world would be a better place if people spent more time thinking before they act. Chances are, there would be a lot less turmoil and violence if people took the time to consider the consequences of their behavior.

Despite the fact that there are many things around to entertain and fascinate us, I think we need to lose this idea that we have to be actively engaged every minute of every day. Stopping to look around and appreciate the things of nature and nature’s God is really not a waste of time. Sometimes, it enriches the spirit and leads to discoveries within the mind that one might have otherwise missed.

Smelling the roses is in reality good for the soul.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ellis Smith April 4, 2011 | 6:24 a.m.

"Technology has taken away our time to contemplate." No, WE'VE taken away our time to contemplate; technology is simply being used as a convenient and even a pathetic excuse.

Some technologies are patently bad: nuclear and chemical weapons, for example. Most technologies are only as good or as bad as the purposes for which WE choose to employ them.

Perhaps an illustration would be better. You are in your own home at night and there's a power outage. In a search for a flashlight you stumble over a chair and do yourself bodily harm. Should the chair be blamed because it's there?

When it comes to INTELLIGENT use of some recent technologies it's a bit like we're "in the dark and looking for a flashlight." Hopefully we'll find that flashlight soon.

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Kevin Gamble April 4, 2011 | 1:27 p.m.

Ms. Nolen, thank you for this thoughtful and insightful piece. Among many pearls of gentle wisdom, this one stood out to me:

"we spend too much time being entertained instead of exercising our brains constructively"

To my mind, technology is creating a nearly-perfect loop from mindless work to mindless entertainment. I think one of the great allures of technology is how it gives us access to information. The simple finding and accumulation of information can become an addictive task and can create the illusion of growth and, studies have shown, a vicarious sense of completion when nothing is actually achieved.

Of course there is good and useful technology in the world. But this type of questioning is a good and healthy thing. What we'd lose with the loss of contemplation would be slow in revealing itself, difficult to measure numerically, and unbelievably devastating.

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