Lost In the Era of Technology

Amy BaiJune 3, 2024AI and the Future of KnowledgeInterfaith Connections
Lost In the Era of Technology

Artwork by Tamara De Arrascaeta, age 12, Uruguay

“Amy, come down to help me make the dumplings,” I heard my mum’s loud and raspy voice echoing in the house. “It is the Chinese New Year today!”

​​I picked up my phone and sent a text message to my mum, since I could not be bothered to walk all the way downstairs: ok but why don’t u just let chatgpt find a recipe for you?

I put down my phone, and a storm of memories began to pervade my mind. I recalled the good old days when I stood patiently next to my mum in the kitchen, emulating her dexterous hands that were busy making dumplings, listening to the stories of Chinese New Year her grandparents once told her and feeling a strong sense of connection to my Chinese culture. But where has all that gone now? We say that technology has made the world a better place and that powerful AI has the answer for every question. Is this really true?

I was born and raised in China before I migrated to Australia at the age of 10, so Chinese culture has always been a significant part of my life. In Chinese culture, there are a myriad of traditional practices and skills that are passed down through generations to ensure that they do not vanish. When I was seven and preparing to go to primary school, my dad read the Three Character Classic (San Zi Jing) to me every day before I went to bed, patiently pointing at each of the Chinese characters and helping me practice their pronunciation. My dad said reading through this timeless Chinese classic allowed me to not only familiarize myself with Chinese characters but also learn about the basis of Confucian morality, especially filial piety (xiao shun), which means respect for elders.

Listening to his comment, I looked thoughtfully at the faded and wrinkled pages of the book held in my dad’s hands, amazed at the thousands of years of Chinese history and tradition that had been condensed into these few hundred pages of text. The tangibility of the book motivated me to think more deeply about the life messages conveyed by the succinct lines of characters, and I felt as if the author, Yinglin Wang, was speaking directly to me, imparting the disciplines I should adopt in order to refine myself and my daily practices.

With the help of research engines such as Google and ChatGPT, I have become less and less reliant on the physical copies of the classical texts, using Ctrl F in the digital version to instantly locate the lines I need for my Chinese research project instead of spending the time and effort to comprehend the text and absorb myself in Chinese culture. It is true that technology has made my life more convenient by cutting down the time to manually find and process information, but at the same time, it has diminished the value and importance of physical texts, which more effectively connect a person to their culture. Therefore, the emergence of technology has resulted in a shift in my relationship with traditional sources of heritage. While this approach is efficient, it can unfortunately lead to the dilution of the richness and depth of cultural understanding and immersion that are derived from active engagement with physical texts.

Another skill I have learned that is of high cultural significance is Chinese calligraphy, which is the writing of Chinese characters in an elegant, artistic form using a traditional brush with black ink. I began learning calligraphy in second grade when my mum was unable to tolerate how impatient and easily distracted I was. In Chinese culture, calligraphy is not only a form of writing, but also a way of self-cultivation. My mum reminded me that the calligraphy teacher she chose for me treated his students like apprentices, so paying him the maximum amount of respect and attention during class was essential. Yet it turned out that I was unable to pull my eyes away from him during class. My teacher wore a full set of traditional Chinese costumes from different dynasties every week to class, explaining to us the historical significance of the costume and the dynasty it was from, and then teaching us calligraphy by writing out poems composed by poets born in that specific dynasty. Seeing his costumes, hearing his oral transmission of past folklore, and practicing Chinese calligraphy made me feel that his classroom was like a secluded world that allowed me to momentarily immerse myself in that particular dynasty. Slowly writing out each character gave me time to ponder their meanings and absorb the rich language.

Nowadays, I rarely feel that sense of pure fulfillment. I have long since lost the skill of calligraphy, because writing with paper and a pen has become increasingly rare in my daily life. With a typing speed of 80 words per minute, I rarely stop my fingers that are flying away on the keyboard to think about every word I am typing. Instead of hand-writing the poems, I Google them and then, with Ctrl C and Ctrl V, they are copied in the blink of an eye. There are no more weekly costume shows, no more tangible objects that show cultural and historical significance, and no more pure engagement with Chinese culture. It’s as if technology and AI have snatched away my willingness to actively and physically engage in cultural activities.

Technology like AI has certainly accelerated the pace of our lives, and this means that we spend less time exploring our own culture and traditions. The bedtime reading with my dad and the calligraphy classes I had with my teacher imparted retainable knowledge of Chinese traditions to me, as well as invaluable lessons of life, which constantly remind me of the need to genuinely appreciate the rich Chinese culture and history. Due to the pervasive rise of AI and technology, the gradual fade of cultural practices and traditions is a global issue. Moving forward, we can use technology in moderation to facilitate our lives, but we also need to keep our traditional and cultural practices in our hearts.

Amy Bai is a Year 10 student living in Melbourne, Australia, with a deep passion for photography. She also loves reading and writing short stories and essays that convey her unique ideas.