Think: Does technology free us or trap us?

For 23 years, the Great American Think-off in New York Mills, Minn., has helped thaw the collective brain of Minnesotans, paralyzed by the mind-numbing winters.

The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center sponsors the contest, which awards $500 and an all-expenses-paid trip to New York Mills to those who submit the most compelling essays.

The organization has released this year’s theme: Does technology free us or trap us?

Writers should ground their essays in personal experience rather than philosophical abstraction, the rules say.

Participants have until April 1 to submit their essays. The final debate will be held in June.

Last year, the Think Off debated whether love or fear motivates us more.

Love won.

  • Robert Moffitt

    “Does technology free us or trap us?”
    That would be an interesting question to ask Prof. Stephen Hawking, or closer to home, Bruce Kramer.

  • Gary F


    Pheasants Forever has a great program called “No kids left inside” which we need to get kids off the computer and out of doors. So, a case can be made that its bad.

    But, on the other hand. Watching a ball game with your teenage son, and you see a player with a familiar last name, you can Google him really quick and find out if his dad was a former major leaguer. This also works for pitching and base coaches too.

    And when your wife asks you if a certain public figure is dead or alive, such as last week, Max Baer, you can just Google it.

    Far too simple of an answer to win any prize though.

    And, a problem when your 19 year old son barks back at you, “Dad, you got your own phone, I’m not your Google source”.

  • jon

    There were futurists back when I was a kid (only 10-20 years ago) They insisted that in the next 10-30 years we wouldn’t think about computers, we wouldn’t have file systems or mice or keyboards… they would all be integrated to the point where information would be feed to us as needed.
    The comparison they used was our cars, where no one thinks about the computer in their car, it’s there, it doesn’t bother you unless it needs to feed you new information (engine is over heating, Gas cap isn’t tight, oil change needed, headlight fluid low, etc.)

    I don’t recall how far in the future they said this would be, and they fought over the details of it (suggesting that screens would be TV and computer screens (which fair enough I can get pandora on my TV, and netflix, etc.) or possibly head mounted (google glasses) or some other technology that didn’t exist (and might not still)) but the more we move forward the more I see this being the case… My phone doesn’t bother me unless there is something that needs my attention (a meeting notice, or a new message, or a package delivered from amazon) and even that is improving (meeting notifications that don’t fire off if you are at the meeting location, etc.)

    This is how technology free’s us. It does heavy lifting for us, freeing us to focus on other things… it is how technology has always free’d us, it allowed us to drive across the country instead of spending months on horse back, it allowed us to quickly cut timber for framing a house instead of using hand saws, it isn’t something we think about, they are just things that happen (though learning to drive and learning to ride a horse both require some thought, as does learning to use a hand saw, and learning to use a circular saw)

    Technology also traps us, it draws us away from our surroundings with screens and speakers… Screens always infront of our face (even as I’m typing this) Speakers drowning out our conversations with other people… opting to stare at your phone while waiting for the restaurant to finish up your to-go burger driving…

    While none of these are entrapment in and of themselves, but constant connectivity means that I’m always on call for work, even if it’s only email, it means that my parents can always reach out to me and ask me to fix their computer, my wife can always tell where I am…

    Technology doesn’t free or imprison us, it enables us to do either to ourselves… we opt into making our lives easier, we could opt out as well, or choose any level of commitment to technology as we want… though Addiction to connectivity a “Need to know” and a drive for a sedentary life style can trap us as well.

  • MikeB

    Technology is a tool, it is up to us how we use it. Human nature is the constant.

  • Jack

    Technology can be garbage in, garbage out. If one doesn’t understand the fundamentals of what the technology may be doing for you, you never know if the answer is correct or not.

    Seen it way too many times. Just ask any IT guru worth his/her salt.

    Does it free or trap us? I would say both. Anyone get stuck on a website????