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Take time to wonder in fast-paced world of technology

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Monday, September 20th, 2004 — Way back before cell phones and high-speed Internet, it seemed like science might be lost forever to myth and the religious imagination.

Today, especially in Silicon Valley, it is looking more like science has trumped other forms of intelligence.

Cell phones are commonplace. Even up in the Stanford hills, morning hikers are already taking care of business thanks to wireless telecommunication. Kids on bikes and in classrooms, in movie theaters and the ballpark are never more than a couple of clicks away from their friends.

That is good news or bad news, depending on to whom you talk. Technology, with its promises of more and better, teases us with possibilities that are always just beyond our present knowledge and uses.

We can rightly celebrate the brilliant minds that have brought us this far and the exciting times in which we live. It is heady, indeed, to realize how much is happening in and around us right here in Palo Alto.

We never want to return to the time when religious myth prevailed over science. But science cannot give us everything we need to know. We cannot forget the important values that came out of the slower-paced, pre-technological world.

A few years ago, one Palo Alto graduating senior commented that technological savvy had made her and her classmates better prepared for life than graduates who had gone before them.

To my mind, this is dangerous thinking. Without a doubt, technology has been a boon to daily life, as well as a valuable skill in the marketplace. However, some things are more basic preparations for getting along in the world.

Communication and social skills are obvious examples. Out of curiosity, I went to a local chat room, and found the following: "OH OH OH!!! Right here. I'm going. LBC…mmm…lots of hearts." Do we have to call this communication? Could the person who wrote it, write a simple thank you note?

With all of our high-speed hook-ups, it is easy to forget that "life" calls on us to come face to face with one another. To slow down. To listen and respond.

We also need time to wonder. Time to be without quick-and-easy answers. When we give ourselves time to sit with a question, we allow our imaginations to work, and our horizons to expand. We begin to see the question in new ways, and our answers continue to develop.

Pablo Picasso complained: "Computers are useless; they only give you answers."

Lastly, there is a harmony and rhythm to the natural world that complements our life. Scientific theories are derived from this harmony. Art and music can touch us because through them we feel as if we come closer to the beauty of the natural order. The arts as well as science invite us to wonder, to question, to imagine.

As creatures we inherit our share in this natural harmony. We know it as a "sixth sense," or plain old intuition. An important part of life is learning to keep our feet on the ground and trust this intuition. As with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, when we take our shut off the computer, keep our eyes focused on our goal and let our intuition guide us, we find our way.

Sometimes the best preparation for life is being able to access the rhythm of nature. Case in point: My friend, Raymond.

Raymond and I met on our morning walks in the neighborhood. He had a jolly round face and a Santa Claus smile. He was elderly and walked with two canes, but he never missed his morning walk. Sadly, we knew each other only a short time before he became terminally ill.

One evening when I visited him, he was too weak to open the door. I let myself in, and after a moment I said, "Raymond, we have to go out on the porch, just for a minute." He let me help him up and we went outside. We stood there in absolute awe of the most incredible harvest moon. Then he smiled his Santa Claus smile and said, "Thank you."

Raymond would not have given up the technology that added the last months to his life, but it was the great fullness of the fall moon that brought him peace that evening.

Technology has expanded our horizons, but each of us is better prepared for life when we find a way to slow down, step back and keep our personal "harvest moon" in view, as well.