What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology - InformationWeek
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03:05 PM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
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What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology

Luke Skywalker had it right. Push away the screen and go with The Force from time to time.

I hadn't seen the original Star Wars in about 30 years, so I figured it was time to see how the old saga holds up. As a kid, I was in awe of George Lucas's iconic sounds and images. But as a 40-year-old movie snob, I was ready -- even excited -- to not like Star Wars.

The corny dialog, the '70s-era computer graphics and '70s hair, the special effects that pale next to today's mind-blowing CGI and 3-D technology. And that C3P0! He won't shut up! I assumed it would be dated and silly.

But I was wrong.

I loved it all over again. It's still the fast-moving and fun space adventure it was back in the day. The John Williams score alone has enough power and delight to cheer up the gloomiest of viewers. And the special effects still kick butt.

While it's not exactly a deep movie, Star Wars does have layers. I'll leave the analysis about the various underlying themes and symbols to Wikipedia (and also Wookiepedia). But one theme that stuck with me as an adult is the nature vs. technology thread that runs through the movie.

Star Wars obviously permeates with technology. You see it manifested in the drones, droids, force fields, holograms, tractor beams, fighter jets and lasers. Everybody is tracking everybody else with intergalactic navigation systems. The flakiness of the hyper drive housed in Han Solo's old-school, forever-under-repair Millenium Falcon is a critical plot point in The Empire Strikes Back.

Yet Star Wars and its sequels have a distinct anti-technology slant. The wise and heroic characters -- Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, even the shifty Solo -- don't put a lot of stock in technology. They'll use it as they need it, but these are earthy men who believe in The Force, a deeply spiritual state of mind that can harness positive energy or pull you toward the dark side. The Force has nothing to do with technology.

The climactic Death Star battle scene is the centerpiece of the movie's nature vs. technology motif, a reminder to today's viewers about the perils of relying too much on gadgets and not enough on human intuition. You'll recall that Luke and his team of X-Wing fighters are attacking Darth Vader's planet-size command center. Pilots are relying on a navigation and targeting system displayed through a small screen (using gloriously outdated computer graphics) to try to drop torpedoes into the belly of the Death Star. No pilot has succeeded, and a few have been blown to bits.

Luke, an apprentice still learning the ways of The Force from the wise -- but now dead -- Obi-Wan Kenobi, decides to put The Force to work in the heat of battle. He pushes the navigation screen away from his face, shuts off his "targeting computer" and lets The Force guide his mind and his jet's torpedo to the precise target.

Luke put down his gadget, blocked out the noise and found a quiet place of Zen-like focus. George Lucas was making an anti-technology statement 36 years ago that resonates today.

For any working professional in 2013, multiple screens, devices and apps are integral instruments for success. But the multitasking can be overwhelming, and many of the apps we use only cause more worry and stress. I sometimes feel like I need a Jedi-level force to pull the screen away from my face.

Dependence on gadgets and Internet connectivity can become a full-blown addiction. We now have "Digital Detox" rehab facilities for those whose careers and relationships have been ruined by extreme gadget use.

There's no denying, of course, that we need these screens and gadgets full of information. They make us more productive at work, spark our creativity and help us connect with colleagues. The message of Star Wars isn't: "Be a Luddite and just meditate." You don't defeat Darth Vader by concentrating really hard.

The overarching message of Star Wars is to use technology for good. Use it to conquer evil, but don't let it override your own human Force. Don't let technology replace you.

The dark side of technology use isn't just about cyber spying or hacking or theft. It's also about bullying on social media, excessive self-promoting and gossiping, and spreading violent or lurid content. Darth Vader is hiring.

Take a lesson from a great Jedi warrior. Push the screen away from time to time and give your mind and personality a chance to shine. When it's time to use the screen again, use it for good.

May The Force be with you.

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D. Henschen
IW Pick
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 3:11:16 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
I have seen every episode of Star Wars again over the last few years at the behest of my (now 12-year-old) son. I'm also living with the generational hyper-space jump into technology dependence. He graduated from Nintentos and Wii to iTouch and iPad. I recently gave him a hand-me-down Blackberry Torch -- his first smartphone -- but within one month he was saying it's "lame." Now he's lobbying for the new iPhone. It's mostly about keeping up with the Joneses, not an actual need for the technology. I'm hoping this, too, will pass.

I take your point on putting the screen down. Just yesterday I caught myself checking email during lunch at a restaurant instead of talking to my wife. That's lame. Live your life in the here and now. Use the tools when you need them.
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