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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

June 2, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Scary? Sure, but tech is bringing good things

When my husband sat me down on the red velvet sofa in the lobby of the Harvard Exit and asked me to marry him, his reason, when my heart stopped pounding long enough for me to hear it, came down to this: His life, he said, was better because he shared it with me.

It’s tough for me to believe, eight years after I joined Facebook and five years after my first tweet, that I ever had to explain why I like to share raw bits of myself on these and umpteen other networks. Now, when so many people do it, get it and love it, I don’t have to.

Nine of every 10 American adults own cellphones, half own smartphones and nearly a sixth of the world’s population is on Facebook. Dictators are toppled in days. Heroes revealed in hours. And big news? That spreads in seconds or less. Even when it’s yours.

Minutes after the Big Question, while we recovered over seafood and wine, the friend who’d introduced me to Jason tweeted what had happened, and 140-character congratulations we didn’t see until we were leaving Chandler’s Cove streamed in to the iPhones packed away in our coat pockets. Our relationship had started two years before with the message, “I can has Facebook friend?” Eight months later, my grandparents in Mexico watched via live-stream as #geekgagement — yes, it had a hashtag — became #geekwed.

Of course, nothing good is ever easy, and all this sharing has issues.

Privacy and security, for one. We’re publishing a lot of stuff we didn’t publish before. Our thoughts, our photos, even our locations. I once filed a police report and took days off work when a Twitter jerk became a Twitter stalker.

Do we know who sees what we post? How about who sells it? Together, our data is a gold mine to those who know how to process and package it. Who’s buying and for what?

Then there’s trust. Fair or not, Google, Facebook and Amazon.com have all been cast in the role of big bad tech company out to profit from our activity at the expense of, at the very least, our peace of mind.

We can’t build their tools ourselves, we don’t have time to learn the ins and outs of every feature, and everything’s too new to be reliably regulated. I’m too in love with what sharing can do to stop. I have to believe the services I use are not being evil. But what if I’m wrong?

Finally, balance — a tough one to talk about, because there’s a glory to an all-tech lifestyle that hides the cost. Maybe you’re looking at Facebook when you should be looking around. Chatting over email when you’re chatting with a friend. Tweeting while talking. Texting while driving.

I started enforcing my own personal No-Tech Sundays (now No-Tech Saturdays) because I’m guilty of that and more. Tech can’t work for us when it’s working against us. So how do we manage?

We forget this, but tech is a means, not an end. A tool, not a force. Not even, I think, that strong an identity. If a geek is someone surrounded by and curious about tech, who isn’t?

We forget, too, that the point of personal tech is to empower us, not to get in our way. Living with technology isn’t a chore, a strain or a burden. It’s an opportunity. Really, a gift.

There’s reason to worry, but a lot more reason to stay thrilled.

Especially here. The Seattle area is a place not just for loose ideas and innovation, but curiosity, collaboration and something I haven’t sensed as much in other places: a preference for balanced, happy living, whatever that means to you. That shook me up when I moved here, wound and rigid, five years ago. It’s made me want to make my life here today.

Jason and I are expecting our first child this summer. We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but either way — to the surprise of no one who knows us — Baby’s URL is purchased and waiting.

We’re living in a time of radical self-expression. New tech made it possible, but don’t be fooled; we got here on our own. I follow the rumors, the gadget wars and the big-money gossip as much as anyone, but what moves me most is something else — the very real possibility that we’re building a world where all our lives are better because we share them with one another.

Sit back, relax and enjoy it. Or lean forward and take part. Either way, good things are coming.

Monica Guzman’s column appears Sundays in The Seattle Times. Reach her at mguzman@seattletimes.com.

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