Government // Mobile & Wireless
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11/7/2013
03:05 PM
Shane O'Neill
Shane O'Neill
Commentary
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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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Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 9:12:02 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
Good point Marcello. The hard work involved in striking this balance should not be underestimated. We're not Jedis (obviously) but we can learn to feel our own force and use it to get in
shape, curb addiction, control emotions etc. I'm not saying it's easy. We all need some Yoda wisdom and guidance. :) As for kids, I say educate them in schools and at home early and often on how to balance their real and digital identities. Most kids will stare at screens all day if we let them. It's up to parents and teachers to set boundaries and encourage face-to-face social interaction.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 8:33:09 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
I agree, being able to move objects with your mind certainly transcends technology. I wasn't saying Jedis dismiss technology, but rather they integrate it brilliantly with the powers of the mind to fend off evil.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/8/2013 | 8:15:49 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
This article should have been started with "Spoilers Alert".
I will watch movie again soon, nonetheless, I agree with the authors' point about balance and to use technology for good. It requires education though. My question shall l be, how soon do we need to start teaching children? and where? In our home? school? special programs?
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/8/2013 | 8:00:45 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
You made my day ;)
bcox641
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bcox641,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2013 | 7:48:20 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
I've got a bad feeling about this...
TiB306
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TiB306,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2013 | 7:24:28 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
"Impressive. Most impressive." "Search your feelings, you know it to be true."
GIGABOB
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GIGABOB,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2013 | 6:38:26 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
You missed the point. You first have to feel the force before you can use it. Jedi take technology to the next level - from a cyborg bio-neural interface to being genetically engineered humans attuned to electric, magnetic and gravitational fields that surround us. They can use this awareness to manipulate those fields directly with their brain - thus impacting technological elements around them. They do not repudiate tech, they take it to the next level.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 4:17:15 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
What's striking about revisiting Obi-Wan Kenobi's instruction to Luke in today's context, compared to when Star Wars first blasted its way into our culture nearly 40 years ago, is just how much more dependent on technology -- and addicted to it --we've become. One hopes Obi-Wan's message -- and the suggestion that we all need to look up and see the bigger picture around us -- doesn't fade away as technology becomes an ever-stronger force competing for our mind's attention.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 4:02:39 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
At my son's Confirmation several years ago, a father behind me was chatting on the phone and checking his email throughout this Sacramental ceremony. "Lame" doesn't begin to say it.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/8/2013 | 3:16:00 PM
re: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Technology
Jedi are also makers. You're supposed to be able to construct a new light saber from random parts you find at the galactic Radio Shack. Try that with an iPhone
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